He never wanted any kind of special treatment. He refused interview requests, refused coverage of his enlistment or graduation from Ranger school. He turned down the networks and told the Army he just wanted a chance to be a soldier and try to become a Ranger. Pat Tillman didn’t want any fanfare. He just wanted to serve his country.
Tillman died in a firefight in Eastern Afghanistan on Thursday. He was 27. The news swept through the sports world like a swift kick in the stomach. Most of the media didn’t even know Tillman was in Afghanistan. Or that he had be deployed in Iraq in March of 2003. Tillman was the guy who turned down the $3.6 million to take an $18,000 enlistment in the Army. But while the media focused on the money he walked away from, Tillman focused on his sense of duty.
“Pat was clear-eyed ad made level headed decisions,” former Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Dave McGinnis said yesterday. “He left football for a higher calling.”
Tillman’s friends said he was greatly affected by the events on September 11th and that those events spurred his decision to enlist. While he didn’t want any fanfare, the associated coverage surrounding his death has re-focused many people’s minds on the Americans and Allies killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tillman is a hero, not because he walked away from the money and the glory of professional sports, but because he was willing to sacrifice, and make the ultimate sacrifice, defending and preserving freedom.
Just like the thousands of other men and women in uniform and in harm’s way right now. They have taken the fight to the terrorists front door, redefining the battlefield away from downtown Manhattan and the Pentagon Tillman has put an identifiable face on the sorrow and suffering many American families have felt since the War on Terror began in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was proud of Pat Tillman when he enlisted, and I’m proud and thankful for him today. The Cardinals are planning to honor his memory by naming a plaza after him at their new stadium. America can honor his memory by finishing the job that took his life.
Maybe Tillman’s death will show many of the players and coaches in professional sports, especially football, how silly they look when they compare their jobs to combat. “I’m going to war with these guys,” is a phrase used by a lot of athletes in locker rooms across the league. Comparing a game to an actual battle is ludicrous. It also should give coaches something to think about when it comes to refusing to let their players talk with the media. Wait a minute. Eighteen-year olds are being interviewed on the battlefield in between firefights on live television while certain players and coaches are “off-limits” after games?