Fame, Misfortune, Family Ties | HBCU Legend Tarik Cohen Pens A Letter To His Younger Self For Players’ Tribune

(Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

Free agent running back Tarik Cohen is set to begin a new leg of his football career with a new team this offseason after leaving the Chicago Bears in free agency.

Whatever’s lying ahead of him is nothing compared to the challenges he’s already faced and the adversity he’s had to overcome. He details his life’s journey in a letter to his 17-year-old self, who was about to graduate high school at the time.

Tarik Cohen, 26, is traveling nine years back in his letter published this week that he wrote in the Players’ Tribune, titled “Letter to My Younger Self.” In this letter he begins by talking to his younger self and telling him to calm down at the thought of a potential family relocation that could possibly derail his emerging football career. He tells young Tarik that what he feels “Couldn’t possibly get any worse!”

But it was only the tip of the iceberg compared to what he was about to tell himself. 

Well, that’s actually what I want to talk to you about, Tarik. You’re going to need to really hunker down from this point on. Because the next 10 years are about to be even more challenging than the previous ones. And it won’t even be close.”

Although the former North Carolina A&T star acknowledges that the football side of life and the success that comes with it will be great and life-changing, he cannot and will not downplay that the rest of his life was tragedy-filled moving forward. 

“Look, nothing I can write in this letter could possibly prepare you for everything that is about to happen. I don’t even know where to start, to be honest with you. There’s just so much. Looking back on it all, it almost doesn’t seem real. There will be a big bag of crack cocaine. There’ll be a gun … right there in your hand, ready to shoot, to help you get revenge. There will be death. In the family. Unimaginable loss. And that’s only for starters. It’s going to be a lot. And you know what? I wouldn’t fault you if you want to stop reading this letter right here. Not one bit.” 

The HBCU legend details the choices that he will have to eventually make, including staying behind with his aunt while his family moves away to a new town. The pressures his mom is going to be facing while consumed with trying to make a living to support all of her children are going to be tough. The things he will begin to hear about his twin brother Tyrell, and his younger brother Dante will be heart-shattering, as well as the fact that he can’t do anything impulsive or brash because he wants to focus on his future in football. 

He would talk about how his brothers would start veering into illegal activity, from stealing Jordans to using drugs and fighting. Tarik will try any form of love he can use to break through to them, but to no avail. He will plead with his brothers to calm down and stay low-key and give Tarik enough time to get to the league so he can support them financially so that they won’t have to resort to crime or illegal activity. But nothing works, and Tarik runs out of time.

Throughout the first two years of Cohen’s NFL career, he will spend a substantial amount of it bailing his brothers out and trying to help keep them out of trouble. His brothers develop an inferiority complex due to their inability to reach Tarik’s levels of success and they will resort to more illegal activity. All leading up to one of the worst phone calls he’s ever going to have in his life. Young Tarik will find out that his brother Dante was shot and paralyzed. 

“You’ll also hear the story of what happened, or some version of it. Dante had been in a shootout a few days earlier where some kids tried to rob him. He had fired his gun and hit someone, and apparently this shooting was in retaliation for that.”

 

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Tarik also details his battling with his ACL, MCL and tibial plateau injuries that he sustained against the Falcons after signing his new deal with the Bears. Tarik is a fighter, and overcoming those injuries are nothing compared to the next phone call he’s going to receive from his mother. 

“The police are going to find a body at an electrical plant near the scene of the car accident. The cops won’t be able to identify who it is at first, because they’ll need to have the power shut off before they can go investigate. You’ll try to convince yourself of some alternate explanation. It’ll be like, Maybe it’s not Tyrell. Maybe it’s someone else. You never know. But … you’ll know. Before they even identify his body, you’ll know.”

All of these tragedies began to weigh on Tarik’s mental health, until football couldn’t even soothe the pain anymore.

Cohen by then will have gone 18 months since last playing an NFL game, and he’ll sit back and observe his life, one brother gone, another unable to walk (Dante eventually passed away in a car accident, just a few days after Tarik finished his letter), and he’ll question everything including life and what it has to offer. But with a hint of optimism at the end of the letter, he’ll say that the rest of the story is dependent on him and the decisions he makes.

This offseason looks to be a big one for Tarik Cohen.