On Sunday, September 11 2011 NFL teams across the United States commemorated the 10th anniversary of the New York and Washington DC terror attacks. Yet the name of former NFL player-turned-soldier Pat Tillman was only mentioned before the game at his home field in Arizona. The absence of Tillman’s name during memorial activities that swept the nation suggests a conscious effort to conceal his sacrifice and the suspicious circumstances surrounding his battlefield death.
Tillman was the only professional athlete to die in the Iraq-Afghanistan war theater since September 11th, 2001. He walked away from fame and a multi-millions dollar career to join the U.S. Army because of how 9/11 impacted him. On the day after the September 11th attacks, Tillman remarked in an interview, “My great-grandfather was at Pearl Harbor and a lot of my family has gone and fought in wars, and I really haven’t done a damn thing.”
Twenty-two months after enlisting, Pat Tillman was dead. His memorial service was aired on national television. The Army awarded him a Silver Star for his “gallantry in action against an armed enemy.” Army officials claimed Tillmanʼs convoy was ambushed in Afghanistan. They said Tillman charged up a hill to protect his men but was struck down by Taliban forces. The NFL in turn created statues and commemoratives in his honor.
In fact, the Pentagon’s official story, and the one adopted by the NFL, was proven false. Tillman died in friendly fire, and the event was knowingly hidden from his family, his fans, and the broader public. It is also known that Tillman began to turn against the war before his death, telling fellow soldiers that the Iraq war was “illegal.” An avid reader, Tillman’s final months included evaluating the works of anti-war authors in an attempt to understand the conflict he was in and how he had become America’s most famous solider.
“Where was the Pat Tillman Story on NFL Sunday?” Edge of Sports, September 13, 2011
Author: Dave Zirin
Student Researcher: Kirk Moncol, Florida Atlantic University
Faculty Advisor: James F. Tracy, Florida Atlantic University