Two autographed NFL helmets sit on a shelf inside the home office of retired U.S. Marshal Kim Widup — a Washington helmet adorned with the name of Robert Griffin III and a Chicago helmet bearing the name of Charles “Peanut” Tillman.
Without question, the athletes are two of the most famous to graduate from Widup’s alma mater, Copperas Cove (Texas) High. And reports last week that Tillman is training to become an FBI agent has the former lead investigator in the Whitewater investigation smiling at the signatures with pride once again.
Like most football fans, Widup has been on the lookout for more details about Tillman since the Chicago Tribune first reported the 13-year cornerback is in the rigorous 20-week program at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. And Widup is not surprised in the least that Tillman’s wife, Jackie, answered a Sporting News text by responding, “We aren’t confirming the story right now and he isn’t doing any press as of now. Thank you!”
According to Widup, that’s just part of protocol.
“I’m sure that while he’s at the academy, the FBI has said, ‘Don’t be talking to people,'” Widup told Sporting News. “Even when I was undergoing the confirmation to become a U.S. Marshal, I was told, ‘Hey, look, you haven’t been confirmed yet, you’ve just been nominated. You don’t need to be talking to people. Just refer them back to the White House.'”
A 38-year law enforcement veteran who now teaches classes and does consulting work for the federal government and other entities, Widup doesn’t think the two-time All Pro will have any trouble with the physical aspect of the training, including a five-part segment in which a candidate is scored in a mile-and-a-half run, 300-meter sprint, pushups, situps and pullups.
“The mile-and-a-half run, to max it, for a male, you have to run it under 8:59,” he pointed out. “The max for pushups is doing 71 or over, untimed. The max in the 300-meter sprint is 40.9 seconds and below. The situps is doing 58 or more in a minute, and then the pullups is doing 20 or more, and those are untimed. Now, maxing each one of those would give him a 50, but he only needs a 20 to pass.
“Being a professional athlete, presuming he doesn’t have a ripped-up shoulder or something that prevents him from doing something, he shouldn’t have any issues with it.”
The last time NFL fans saw Tillman on a field, he was being helped off the turf with a ripped ACL during the Panthers’ 2015 regular-season finale, against the Buccaneers. The injury forced him to miss a Super Bowl matchup against the Peyton Manning-led Broncos and led to his hilarious retirement video five months later.
Tillman finished that season with 55 tackles and two interceptions, giving him 911 and 38, respectively, for his career. More notably, he amassed 44 forced fumbles over 168 career games, using a technique that became known as the “Peanut Punch.” That his second career choice could involve punching out crime isn’t out of character for a guy who graduated from Louisiana-Lafayette with a degree in criminal justice and spent some of his NFL offseasons working with law enforcement personnel. In fact, Bears former security chief Tom Dillon was at one time the head of the FBI’s SWAT team in Illinois and is a friend of Tillman.
Those offseason associations and being the son of an Army sergeant played a big role in Tillman deciding to seek an FBI badge. And because the bureau’s mandatory retirement age is 57, Tillman has to gain entry before he turns 37 in February.
If Tillman does succeed, Widup suspects he will be assigned to the Chicago area.
“Normally what happens is you have a two-year probationary period, where they can dismiss you for almost anything. And that’s typical with federal law enforcement,” said Widup. “What they try to do is assign an agent to an office close to where they hired him. Now in Peanut’s case, since he’s from Chicago, he would be in the Chicago office, that would be my guess. Then what happens, after your first two years they send you to a major crime city office, which it used to be about 25 cities. Because he’s already in Chicago, they’ll probably just keep him in Chicago.
“They probably won’t have him working undercover, or any of that, obviously, because, particularly in Chicago, I mean he’s very, very popular. But he could be on anything from working bank robberies, violent crimes, on a narcotics squad, to enforcing any of the other federal crimes that they do, and the FBI has over 300 federal crimes that they’re responsible for, so any of those programs he could be a part of. Unless he goes into their counterterrorism area — then they start to put him a bit into anonymity. But I’m not sure he would end up there, because if he’s spotted in a neighborhood in Chicago or wherever. And because he’s so well-known, they’d figure he’s FBI, so he must be watching us. “
Tillman is not the only high-profile athlete to be connected to law enforcement. Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Herschel Walker made well known his interest in taking FBI classes. Basketball Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal is a deputy marshal in Louisiana, a reserve police officer in Florida and a sheriff’s deputy in Georgia, with designs on running for sheriff in 2020. Not exactly unrelated, in March 2016, former NFL guard Daryn Colledge enlisted in the Army National Guard, and, of course, Pat Tillman left the Cardinals in June 2002 to enlist in the U.S. Army in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Now I’m not objective in this, so take it for what it’s worth,” said Widup, “but I do believe people feel it’s a calling. I would guess if he’s doing this at this stage in life, I can’t imagine he’s doing it as a whim. It’s probably something he’s always wanted to do. Most people that are going to undergo all of this, the commitment, the working … It’s a minimum of 50 hours a week as an agent, and you could be on a long surveillance or assignment that could take weeks, so you’re separated from your family — and he has kids — so I think and I hope he’s somebody that’s committed to wanting to do this.
“And my guess is the FBI looked at that, too. They might have said, ‘You’re a multimillionaire, you’re set for the rest of your life, what the hell do you want to do this for?’ And maybe he said, ‘Well, I’ve always wanted to do this,’ or, ‘I never got it out of my system’ or whatever he’s laid out there for them.”
Charles Tillman accepts the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award at Radio City Music Hall in February 2014.()
Tillman certainly isn’t doing it for the money.
“A new agent is required to work 50 hours a week and starts at about $50,000 a year,” said Widup, “and they get paid what’s called availability pay, which means you get 25 percent of your salary, and there’s a cost of living for whatever community you live in. So he’ll probably be somewhere close to the $70,000 range. And in a couple of years, once he finishes probation, he’ll go to a GS12, with that same 25 percent, so he’d be closing in on $90,000. So it’s good money compared to normal jobs, but he’s not going to get paid anywhere near the [$50.9 million] he made as an athlete, obviously.”
If Tillman makes it through the program and becomes an agent, Widup doesn’t anticipate a grand announcement from the bureau but does suspect at some point the agency will use it for further recruitment.
“They will try to get him to fade to anonymity as much as they can,” he said. “But I think at some point the FBI will also use it as part of their recruiting policy, as in, ‘Look who we got.’”
Look who they got, indeed.
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