Professional athletes frequently use slights in the media as motivation, and sometimes when they haven’t been slighted at all, they’ll find something to perceive as a slight, just to fire themselves up. And then there’s Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, who got himself worked up about an insult that was in no way insulting.
It started in April, when Tillman noticed a Chicago Tribune story by Dan Pompei ranking the top cornerback prospects in the NFL draft. At the end of the story, Pompei briefly noted that the Bears might want to consider adding a cornerback.
“Charles Tillman, the Bears’ best, is 30,” Pompei wrote. “Now might be the time to draft his successor.”
You’d have to twist yourself up like a contortionist to find a viewpoint in which those comments are an insult: Pompei called Tillman the Bears’ best cornerback while making a factually correct statement about Tillman’s age. That’s not an insult.
But finding it insulting is exactly what Tillman did. In an interview with WSCR in Chicago, Tillman said he’s using the “insult” as motivation.
“I feel like that was a call out,” Tillman said. “I think everyone should get motivated when someone calls them out. That’s why we play this game. We’re competitive. When someone says I can’t do something or I’m too old to do something, it fires me up. I think it’s a good thing. Well let me show you how old I am. I like motivation. It fuels you. It gives you something to work for.”
Tillman also decided to make things personal with Pompei.
“Dan called me old today with his old ass,” Tillman said. “He tried to call me old man. He wrote an article a couple of months back that myself, Brian Urlacher and Olin Kreutz are old. He’s old. You ever see his picture in the paper? He uses the young picture from like 20 years ago. But when you see him in person, he got all that gray and black, the salt and pepper face.”
In today’s Tribune, Pompei responded, saying he’s glad to have given Tillman something to motivate himself through offseason workouts.
“I know that without coaches around to poke you and keep you on course during the lockout, you could use a little prodding from outside sources,” Pompei wrote. “Maybe all Bears fans will be thanking me if it makes you a better player.”
But if Pompei wants Tillman to thank him, he’d be wise not to hold his breath.