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American Icons: Pat Tillman

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Few men are graced with the skill, determination and pure talent to be a college athlete. Even fewer have the ability to make it in the pros. But how many of those have the fortitude and sense of duty to throw all of that away, including an NFL paycheck, at the drop of a hat to serve their country? How many of those have the spirit, drive and perseverance to make it through one of the toughest military training processes the world has ever seen? I don’t know, but I’m willing to bet there’s only one man who’s done it all. That man is Pat Tillman.

Tillman was born in Fremont, California in 1976. The eldest of three sons, one can only imagine the shenanigans Tillman got into as a boy. As a child, he showed great prowess as a football player and excelled at the high school level. He and his teammates were so talented that they went on to the Central Coast Division I Football Championship. Tillman also landed a scholarship to Arizona State.

Unlike many college athletes who finagle their way to a passing grade in the easiest of courses, Tillman excelled as a student the honest way, with hard work and determination. A marketing major, Tillman graduated in three and a half years with a 3.5 GPA. His academic achievements did not go unnoticed. Tillman received the Clyde B. Smith Academic Award in 1996 and 1997, the Sporting News Honda Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 1997, and the 1998 Sun Angel Student Athlete of the Year. In short, Pat Tillman was pretty damn smart.

On the field, Tillman had as much success as he did in the classroom. He and his team had an undefeated season and went on to play in the 1997 Rose Bowl. He was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and was chosen as Arizona State’s Most Valuable Player for 1997. His abilities and achievements led to his selection as a 7th round draft pick for the Arizona Cardinals in 1998.

While playing for the Cardinals, Tillman was moved to play safety and started an impressive ten of sixteen games his rookie season. At one point, out of loyalty to his teammates and fans, Tillman turned down a $9 million five-year contract from the Rams. In 2000, he was named to the NFL All-Pro team after finishing with 120 solo tackles, 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two recovered fumbles, nine deflections and one interception.

I could sit here and write all day about Pat Tillman’s athletic achievements, but I won’t. His achievements on the field, while certainly impressive, are just a portion of what makes him a true American Icon.

In the months following the September 11th attacks, Tillman contemplated military service. In 2002, he made up his mind. Turning down a three-year, $3.6 million contract from the Cardinals, Tillman enlisted in the Army, along with his brother (who turned down a chance to play for the Cleveland Indians), on May 31st. After completing infantry One Station Unit Training (OSUT) and Airborne School, Tillman and his brother completed the Army’s Ranger Indoctrination Program, allowing them to join the elite 75th Ranger Regiment. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the Ranger Indoctrination Program, commonly referred to as RIP, is a course designed to weed out any soldiers who lack the skills and capabilities required to serve in the Ranger Regiment through intense physical training and endless exercises.

Tillman went on to participate in the initial invasion of Iraq and afterwards completed Ranger School. Ranger School, again, for those who aren’t familiar, is a high-intensity leadership course designed to replicate the stress of combat as closely as possible. This training would soon be put to use, as Tillman was scheduled to be redeployed to Afghanistan. It was there, in Afghanistan, that on April 22, 2004, Pat Tillman was killed in action. Initially reported as an ambush, a joint Department of Defense and congressional investigation later found that Tillman’s death was most likely a result of a friendly fire incident, officially known as fratricide.

Regardless of the circumstances of his death, there is no doubt that Pat Tillman gave his life for our country. In Pat Tillman, I personally believe we find the epitome of a man: scholar, athlete, soldier and patriot. In times like these, especially in the wake of the horrific bombing at the Boston Marathon, it is inspiring and reassuring to know that there are more men and women like him serving to protect us and the freedoms we hold dear every day.

To conclude, here is a somber yet inspiring quote from Pat Tillman:

“Sports embodied many of the qualities I deem meaningful. However, these last few years, and especially after recent events, I’ve come to appreciate just how shallow and insignificant my role is. It’s no longer important.”

God Bless America.


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