What happened to Tarik Cohen is part of the game. Whatever you might consider the game to be. Whether it’s just professional athletes — especially football players — being more susceptible to bodily injury than those who don’t move at 99 miles per hour aiming for each others’ chests to earn a living, or any person assuming the risks that come with an occupation. When a person signs the paperwork to provide labor for a company in exchange for a wage, that person is assuming the risk of whatever reasonable harm can come as a result of that labor.
There is no requirement for you, the NFL consuming public, to feel sorry for Cohen, who injured his Achilles live Tuesday on Instagram. He was training to return from an ACL injury that he suffered early in 2020. The team that drafted him to be a major contributor to their offense, the Chicago Bears, decided after the 2021 season that it was time to part ways with Cohen. This was 18 months after they signed him to a 3-year contract, worth nearly $10 million guaranteed.
The one-time special teams Pro Bowler for the Bears averaged 6.9 yards per offensive touch in best season — 2018. He was supposed to be the shifty back with the athleticism to score from anywhere, and goodness was Cohen athletic. Before the draft, video went viral of him training that included Cohen catching one football in each hand while doing a backflip. Who cares if North Carolina A&T isn’t a College Football Playoff program, Cohen was clearly an athlete that as a fourth-round pick the Bears had no problem making a part of their offense.
What happened to him injury wise is sad, but on top of what he revealed to the public last week, the whole situation is heartbreaking.
Cohen had an article published in the Player’s Tribune that was titled “Letter to my Younger Self.” While the title wasn’t unique, the story absolutely is. He moved a lot as a child, and prior to his senior year of high school his mother wanted to move him and his siblings again, away from the stability he had established with his current school and team. He convinced his mother to let him stay with a relative for his senior year, and be able to pursue his football goals in the best way possible.
He got to the NFL, but he expresses great regret about what happened to his brothers Dante and Tyrell. They didn’t follow in his footsteps, instead they dropped out of school and spent time immersed in less-than-legal activities. Dante would end up getting shot, and paralyzed. Tyrell would eventually get on the right path and have a family, but still ended up shot and killed. Then after Cohen’s story is published in the Player’s Tribune last week, Dante dies in a car accident. Now while Cohen is grieving, his leg crumbles and it goes viral.
That’s sports. It can happen that quickly. A player gets a decent contract and of course, in the NFL, the entire $18 million-plus isn’t fully guaranteed, and before the age of 27 a career is put in a precarious place, all while dealing with real grief.
In the macro, Cohen did everything right. He made the sacrifice that he thought would best help his career as an undersized tailback, and his family in the long run. He then came up through an FCS program and eventually achieved his goals of the NFL and getting the contract to provide for his family.
But sometimes life doesn’t care about decision making. Sometimes it just happens. It happened to Cohen. We can cling to all the hackneyed lessons that are said to comfort us more than Cohen and his family, “Remind the people in your life how much you love them,” and “Don’t take anything for granted.” Of course we should do those things, but hugging a loved one more often won’t dull the pain if the worst should happen.
If anything can be taken from it, it’s this: The game doesn’t feel anything. It’s not here to understand when someone is tired or hurting, it’s here to be played. And sometimes catching two footballs while backflipping isn’t enough to beat it. However, the effort is always admirable, and the most that any of us can do is try as hard as Tarik Cohen did.