Ten years ago today, Pat Tillman, the Arizona Cardinal who walked away from millions of dollars because he felt a call to defend his country after 9/11, was shot and killed by his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan.
The Army so wanted to make Tillman the perfect hero of post-9/11 America that it falsely claimed he was killed “in the line of devastating enemy fire.” The truth, that he was killed by friendly fire, came later; Tillman’s brother Kevin said the family considered it an insult to be used as “props in a Pentagon public relations exercise.”
The Tillman family has repeatedly pointed out that Pat defied what many Americans thought they knew about a football star turned war hero, including when Pat’s other brother, Richard Tillman, stood up at Pat’s memorial service and angrily disagreed with previous speakers who had said Pat is now with God. “Just make no mistake, he’d want me to say this: He’s not with God, he’s f--king dead. He’s not religious,” Richard Tillman said.
When you reflect on Tillman’s decision to leave the NFL, and on his service in the Army, one of the most striking things is how little Tillman said about the matter. Tillman eschewed publicity and declined to go into any detail about why a man in his athletic prime would walk away from a lucrative football career to risk his life at war. We never heard in Tillman’s own voice an explanation of exactly why he did what he did.
And so we’re left knowing only that Tillman was a brave man, a selfless man, and a man who deserved better from the country for which he gave his life.