clock menu more-arrow no yes

Retired NFL player Adrian Wilson powerfully recounts losing loved ones to gun violence

Adrian Wilson of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates after defeating the Green Bay Packers on January 10, 2010, in Glendale, Arizona.
Adrian Wilson of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates after defeating the Green Bay Packers on January 10, 2010, in Glendale, Arizona.
Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images

Recently retired Arizona Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson, 35, was a teenager when he lost his older brother and a friend to gun violence in separate incidents — and a third friend to suicide soon after, as described in his "Letter to My Younger Self" published on the Players' Tribune, a site founded by Derek Jeter last year. The letter includes one of the most deeply personal accounts of losing a sibling that I have ever read.

In the letter, we get to know the emotional bedrock in Wilson's life, his mom. We learn that she never missed a day of work and received no pension or severance after being let go from a job at a textile mill. It was a job she held for 30 years, and Wilson recalls her work as a way to encourage himself to keep going after the loss of his brother and friends.

His 16-year-old older brother, William, was shot five times in a house they visited together during an incident during his young teenage years that Adrian associates with his brother's involvement with drugs.

Adrian saw his brother bleeding to death and his mother devastated by the loss of her child. Not long after, his friend Jacob Walker was also shot and killed ... and then another friend, Montre Bullock, killed himself. Wilson experienced more than a lifetime's worth of tragedy before adulthood. He writes that "there are no guarantees" in life, but midway through the letter he pauses to say, "That’s when a new life for you and Mom will really begin." As he enters college, Wilson writes that better things are around the corner.

You should read the rest of Wilson's letter yourself, but I can tell you that he grew up to enjoy playing 12 NFL seasons before retiring. He now spends his time creating new shoes in remembrance of the style he developed in his youth, then under the wings of his late brother William.