Pat Tillman was killed fighting a war in the mountains of Afghanistan 10 years ago and still he is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Can somebody please explain?
Can somebody please justify how this man who gave up the American dream to defend it is not worthy of being inducted into Canton?
I wrote it after he died. I wrote it on the 10-year anniversary of 9-11 and I am writing it again today. And I will continue to write it until this injustice is rectified. Why isn’t the last real American sports hero in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
“I think football players and coaches and executives should be in the Hall of Fame for what they accomplish as football players and coaches and executives, and not for anything else,” writes Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, a Hall-of-Fame voter.
Under normal circumstances, I would agree with King, but nothing about Tillman is normal. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is reserved for the greats of the game and nobody is greater than Tillman. He epitomized what a Hall-of-Famer is. He literally left it all out on the field — the battlefield.
King is right in that Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals safety, does not merit Hall of Fame consideration simply because of what he did on the football field. But what about those — commissioners, owners, team executives — who are in the Hall of Fame because of their “contributions to the game”? Who contributed more to the game than Tillman, who gave up the game to fight for our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of sitting on our butts every Sunday and watching the RedZone Channel?
True, there have been 25 other former NFL players who died serving their country during bygone wars of past generations, and Tillman is certainly no braver or more noble than those soldiers were. But this is a different generation, and Tillman is the only millionaire athlete of the modern era who gave up a lavish luxurious lifestyle to sleep in a cave.
I’ve talked to old-school NFL Hall-of-Famers who fought in World War II, and even they agree that Tillman was a different breed.
“The athletes of today have much more to lose financially than we did,” said the late Art Donovan, the Baltimore Colts’ Hall-of-Famer who fought the Japanese in the Pacific during World War II. “The athletes back then didn’t have much to lose except their lives.”
NFL Hall-of-Famer Chuck Bednarik — another World War II veteran who flew 30 combat missions over Germany — told me once when I asked him about Tillman: “He’s the end of the line, the last of his kind. The professional athletes of today are pussycats. They make too damn much money to fight for their country. You’ll never see another one like Pat Tillman.”
Tillman is believed to be the only NFL player since World War II to voluntarily enlist in the military. Other NFL players use military analogies and call themselves “warriors” and “soldiers” and talk about “fighting a battle” and “going to war” — but Pat Tillman actually had the valor and patriotism to do it.
He reportedly made the decision on 9-11 to enlist after he saw terrorists fly the planes into the buildings. He told friends that his comfy, cozy lifestyle had “become too easy.” He married his high school sweetheart and signed up to become an Army Ranger as soon as he returned home from his honeymoon.
Pat Tillman, at the prime of his NFL career, walked away from a $4 million contract to make $1,400 a month in the Army, and he did it quietly and discreetly. He and brother Kevin enlisted together. They drove from Arizona to Colorado to avoid the pomp and pageantry. And he turned down all interview requests after the decision was made because he never wanted the publicity.
Tillman told Dave McGinnis, his head coach in Arizona, that he didn’t want to be singled out as someone who was doing anything special.
“There are a lot of men and women out there who are doing the same thing I’m doing,” Tillman said to his coach.
Except none of them were NFL football players or Major League Baseball players or NBA basketball players or NHL hockey players or NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers or PGA Tour golfers.
Pat Tillman wasn’t like the other “pussycats” in pro sports that Bednarik talked about.
He was one of a kind and the last of his kind.
The last American sports hero.
Why isn’t this great man in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
ABOUT THE WRITER
Mike Bianchi is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.
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