“My dad was a murderer, my uncles were murdered. I thought I’d be like them, too.” Tyrann Matheiu remarked about his family’s checkered past. Tyrann’s 22 tattooed crosses below his right knee is a testament to those he’s lost, those who’ve left a mark on his life. “I hear their voices always: ‘Keep going, keep going,’” Mathieu reflects in an interview with Paul Solotaroff for Men’s Journal.
The story of the 22 crosses begins with his grandfather Lorenzo, who took him in when his mother abandoned him at birth. Lorenzo was a victim of heart failure due to heroin addiction. One cross. The second represents Uncle Donnell. He died of AIDS contracted from “dirty needles.” That’s two. Uncle Keith was “murdered in the street while holding his baby son in his hands.” Three. Aunt Trina, “died on Thanksgiving when some jackass ran a red light.” The story continues all the way to twenty-two.
“I’m a warrior.” Tyrann explained to Solotaroff, “I’ve lived through a lot – and it couldn’t kill me.”
Tyrann’s battles started when he was born. His mother, Tyra, dropped him off on his grandmother’s doorstep. His mother had 5 children in 7 years with two different men. Tyrann’s father who lived on the streets was convicted of murder after killing another man.
Tyrann found the strength to face his struggles in sports. He didn’t have to join his family in fighting on the streets. He found stronger success on the field in whatever sport he played. His success on the playing field was unmatched, checked only when he began using drugs in high school.
Becoming a star player at LSU was the peak of his amateur success, but even that story ended in disappointment. He was kicked off the team due to repeatedly failing drug tests which led to being permanently removed from LSU’s football team his final year of college. Even when he was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals, they required he take a drug test before they signed him, something that neither surprised nor offended Tyrann at that point. Choosing to embrace being a warrior, he recognized his mistakes and took full responsibility for his actions.
Tyrann has been the heart and soul, not just of the defenses, but of every NFL roster he’s been on. It’s not an overstatement to say that his role on the Chiefs defense was a critical part of the Chiefs Super Bowl run. His noticeable presence on the sideline was a huge part of triggering the turnaround against the Texans in the divisional round. His boom, turned into loss on the play of Corey Davis, just when the Titans seemed unstoppable. This helped changed the course of the AFC Championship.
It’s safe to say, we all could learn from Tyrann when facing troubling times where it seems the news just gets worse every day. We all need to be warriors.