Arizona Cardinals star defensive back Tyrann Mathieu opened up about his childhood and a number of other topics in a feature article in Men's Journal by Paul Solotaroff (warning: link contains NSFW language).
Mathieu, 24, revealed the tremendous amount of loss he's suffered throughout his life:
He walks me through the liturgy of his dead. The first cross is for his grandpa Lorenzo, who took in Mathieu when his mom abandoned him at birth. "The heroin got him, though he died of heart failure." Beside Grandpa is Uncle Donell, dead of AIDS, "from dirty needles." Beside Donell is Uncle Keith, "murdered in the street while holding his baby son in his hands." Next to him is Aunt Trina, who "died on Thanksgiving, when some jackass ran a red light." Next to Trina is Uncle Andre, murdered late at night over a projects squabble. The names run together in a blur of urban carnage, their blood tide turned to cruciform squibs of ink. "How?" I ask him. "How are you still here when all these people are gone?"
"I'm a warrior," he says after some reflection. "I've lived through a lot — and it couldn't kill me."
Things weren't any easier with his birth parents:
It started at birth, when his mother dumped him on her parents and ran off "to chase dudes," as he tartly puts it. Beginning at 22, Tyra Mathieu birthed five kids in seven years to two men she barely saw again. Tyrann was her second with Darrin Hayes, a kid off the streets who killed a man in cold blood when Mathieu was only two. "First time I met him, I was 10 years old," says Mathieu. Hayes rarely wrote him or evinced the slightest interest until Mathieu became a star at Louisiana State University. As for Tyra — well, motherhood was never her strong suit. "She'd come back when she was out of cash and stay by her folks for a while. But around when my grandpa died and I asked her point-blank, 'Can I come live with you?' she told me, 'Nope, no, you can't.' And that was that."
Mathieu first grew up with his grandparents in a home that included many of his cousins and other people from the neighborhood seeking refuge. He was eventually adopted by his uncle, Tyrone, and his wife Sheila. The family lost everything in Hurricane Katrina, moving to Texas for a time and spending nearly a year homeless.
It was at that point in his life that Mathieu revealed he started to turn to marijuana to deal with the pain in his life.
"That's why I wound up smoking so much weed," he told Solotaroff. "It smoothed out all my highs and lows."
He added: "Most of my team was smoking. I mean, we practiced at this park where half the time gunshots were going off."
He would eventually fail two drug tests at LSU and was kicked off the team. He also was arrested and charged for simple possession after his college football career came to a close. That caused him to fall down the draft before he was eventually selected in the third round (69th overall) by the Cardinals in 2013.
Since then, two things have defined Mathieu's career: His dynamic, game-changing, playmaking ability and a number of injuries.
Both athletic enough to cover wide receivers and tight ends alike and physical enough to make plays near the line of scrimmage, Mathieu has become the heart of Arizona's defense. He reached the Pro Bowl in 2015 and was voted an Associated Press first-team All-NFL selection, posting 89 tackles, five interceptions, a touchdown, a forced fumble and a sack in 14 games.
He earned that contract because he's become so dominant. And part of that dominance is his work done off the field, and some comes from his swagger and desire to simply dominate the top receivers in the game:
He doesn't watch much sports or waste time on schlock TV; studying wideouts is what he does for fun. Show him something once and he's got it down cold, which explains how he's able to dominate players who outsize him by half a foot. "I don't try to jam you," he says. "That would be stupid. I just get to the spot you're going before you do." It's infuriating to play against someone like Mathieu because he's living inside your head from the opening gun.
He has some choice stories about the receivers he's broken down, stars who, he claims, flat quit on him during a game. The great tight end Jimmy Graham "stopped looking for the ball, said, 'I don't care anymore.' " (Graham did not return several phone calls for comment.) Mathieu figures 80 percent of the men he's covered gave up during a game, then came over after the gun and showed him love.
If there's one thing you can expect from Mathieu, however, it's that he won't ever give up. Based on the adversity he's faced in his life, if he was going to quit, he likely would have done that long ago.
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