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On a night he had every reason to live, Orlando Bowen believed he was going to die.

In March, 2004, Bowen was planning to celebrate signing a contract extension with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The 6-foot-2, 238-pound linebacker was waiting in his car for friends in a Mississauga parking lot when he was approached by two men asking if he had drugs.

After Bowen dismissed the question, the men identified themselves as Peel Regional police offers. Bowen says he was pulled from his car and an altercation ensued.

Bowen was charged with cocaine possession and assault; he alleged that the drugs had been planted. The case went to trail in 2005 and Bowen was acquitted after one of the officers was arrested on drug offences.

“I really thought I was going to die that night,” Bowen said. “The fact I’m here means there has to be purpose, there has to be a reason why I didn’t.

“My wife was pregnant and we had a one-year-old. I dreamed of holding my son in one arm and the Grey Cup in the other and couldn’t believe this was how I was going to die . . . how could this be possible?”

Bowen later filed a $14-million lawsuit against Peel police, which was settled out of court. But while Bowen was exonerated, his football career was over because of a concussion he suffered during the incident.

He’ll be honoured at BMO Field on Saturday afternoon as part of the CFL’s Diversity is Strength program. He will perform the coin flip prior to the Toronto Argonauts-BC Lions game with his wife, Skye, and sons Dante (15), Justice (turns 14 next month) and Marcus (12) in attendance.

Argos players and coaches will wear Diversity is Strength T-shirts with Bowen’s name and No. 37 featured on the back. The Lions will don shirts featuring head coach Wally Buono’s name and No. 39.

Bowen isn’t bitter that his pro career ended so abruptly because he looked at football as a platform to serve others and his community. After all, Bowen left a solid job in Chicago as an IT consultant following his college career at Northern Illinois to join the Argos in 2000.

“I played football so I could give back,” he said. “I remember having the opportunity to play football and thinking, ‘Man, I could maybe impact more lives through this.’

“I felt like there was a shift in next step but I wouldn’t have scripted it like that, there could’ve been easier ways to come to that. When the assault happened and the charges came, I thought, ’Now not only could I not play the game that helped me take care of my family, I couldn’t do the things that brought me back to Canada and that was to serve.'"

Bowen also felt during his trial he never had the chance to express his true feelings to the officers. In 2014, he wrote a letter of forgiveness to them.

“When I was sitting there in the courtroom and they came in, they were looking at me with really angry eyes and started to say things that were so far-fetched and so far from the truth,” Bowen said. “I started feeling sorry for them because I was thinking, ‘I can’t imagine something happening that would bring a reasonable human being to that point.’

“I sat down and said, ‘If they were sitting in front of me right now what would I say? My hand couldn’t keep up with the speed of my thoughts and when I finished I felt a huge release, like a huge burden had been lifted and in it was letting them know, ‘I’m not harbouring any ill will against you.'"

Bowen currently runs One Voice, One Team, a charity that offers leadership programs for youth. He also serves as a keynote speaker and works with the Ontario Police College. And just like he did as a player, Bowen continues to do plenty of volunteer work.

In 2014, Bowen received the Harry Jerome Award for community service and said he moved on from the incident a long, long time ago.

“I’ve been good for a long time,” Bowen said. “I know some people are sometimes uncomfortable when I share my story because of some of the realities it speaks to but for me, it just is what it is and we can’t allow our circumstances to define us or how we see ourselves.

“Pain is a part of the journey, but misery is a choice and if you choose to keep revisiting the things that have given you pain you’ll actually miss out on some of the most beautiful things that are right in front of you. I’m a father of three amazing young men, I have a beautiful bride and I can’t imagine dwelling on things that have happened and missing opportunities to be fully present for them.”

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