10 years ago today, Americans were shocked to learn of the death of NFL safety Patrick Daniel “Pat” Tillman (November 6, 1976 – April 22, 2004). In the aftermath of the events of September 11th 2001, Pat famously left his professional career as an NFL player and enlisted in the United States Army in June of 2002.
Less than 2 years later, Pat was gone.
I remember well the feeling of patriotic pride that swelled within me when I first learned of this young man’s incredible commitment to our country and it’s preservation in the face of such hostile and atrocious acts. Like most American’s, I was immediately swept up in the excitement Pat’s enlistment created. The very idea of giving up a contract that was expected to pay him $3.6 million over the next three years, to go off to war was like something out of a classic movie. As a former soldier in the United States Army myself, it was difficult for me not to feel a great sense of pride in seeing that there were still young Americans who believed in this great nation of ours enough to sacrifice for her protection.
I also remember equally well, the after-math of his passing. We were all pretty shocked to learn that Pat had in fact died from a “friendly-fire” incident and not in an enemy attack as had been reported by the military. The controversies that followed as our government did its best to back-PEDal from the obvious lies surrounding the circumstances of his death served as a sad commentary on the realities of a government that has clearly lost touch with the very people they represent.
A decade removed, Americans have found a way to move on from the tragic news of a life lost and so has the NFL. After Pat’s death, family and friends founded the Pat Tillman Foundation with a $1.25 million pledge to Arizona State University, kicking off the Tillman Scholars-ASU Leadership Through Action™ program at the W. P. Carey School of Business.
In 2010, the league collaborated with the Pat Tillman Foundation to establish the NFL-Tillman Military Scholar award, annually given to one individual who exemplifies Tillman’s legacy. The NFL’s “Salute To Service” program donates to three nonprofit partners, including the Pat Tillman Foundation.
It is unfortunate that the circumstances surrounding the death of Pat Tillman are still considered suspicious by many, forever leaving a mar, a slight taint on what is other-wise a picture perfect example of American patriotism, bravery, intestinal fortitude and true grit. Controversy aside, the legacy of Pat Tillman is one that will live on for the ages through the work of his widow Marie Tillman and the foundation that carries his name.
Check out this tribute to Pat on YouTube.