By Ellen Bravo
I’m a die-hard Packers fan, but I have to hand it to Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, who was determined to be with his wife when she delivered their fourth child, even if it meant missing Sunday’s high-profile game against the Texans. Both teams went into the game with 7-1 records.
Tillman told the press on Wednesday, “At the end of the day, (family is) all you have. This game is important to me, but after what we went through with my middle child, to me football will always be second or third in my life. That was a great lesson learned to teach me that when I’m done playing football my family will still always be there for me.” The player’s second child was born with a serious heart condition.
Some fans were outraged. But Tilman’s coach and teammates were fully supportive.
“It’s family first,” Bears Coach Lovie Smith said to The Chicago Sun Times. “If there is something you feel like you need to do for your family always do that. How we look at it is like an injury. If a player can’t go, it’s next guy up. We’ll keep going.”
Interestingly, several sports commentators echoed this sentiment. Rodney Harrison, now one of the hosts on Football Night in America, described a similar position he took when he played for the New England Patriots. Asked what his coach, Bill Belichick had to say, Harrison replied, “Belichick didn’t say anything. Had he said anything, I would’ve said I don’t care how important the game is. Even if it’s the Super Bowl, I’m going to be there when my baby is born. It was understood. I was going to be there for my kids.”
Co-host Tony Dungy, former coach for the Indianapolis Colts, agreed. “My policy was, ‘always be with your wife. Your wife is much more important than any football game.’”
Chicago lost Sunday’s game, even with Tillman playing. The baby thoughtfully decided to wait until Monday to be born – a fact Tillman tweeted earlier in the week: @mikeandmike god, family, football… Baby is coming Monday don’t worry I’ll be there Sunday.”
But the NFL and the country gained from this discussion. We can all celebrate the strong stand of these athletes.
If only every father (and mother) could take time off for a new or ill family member without fear of losing their job or pay – that would really be cause for celebration.