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Strong Safety

June 16, 2002

Most people probably have never heard of the guy. You hear his name, and a bell rings... maybe. "Wasn't he famous or something?" you wonder. He is famous, but for quite a bit more than just playing a game. You'd have to be a pretty avid football fan to know his name, or at least an Arizona Cardinal football fan.

Pat Tillman is 25-years-old. He was an All-Pro safety for the Arizona Cardinals football club, and a graduate of Arizona State University. He was recently married. He is a hero.

In this day of headlines screaming about pro athletes being charged with (and sometimes convicted of) murder, rape, drug possession, having illegal weapons, assault, spousal abuse, battery and just plain bad manners, it's deemed not newsworthy when one of these athletes gives up, so selflessly, their time and money. It's even more sad when one gives up a career, totaling millions of dollars in income, to serve his country; and it mostly goes ignored.

We're too used to hearing ESPN and most of the mainstream networks talk about the latest obscene bizarre statement that the paragon of virtue, Mike Tyson, has grunted. A man who from 1995 to 1997, spent almost twice the amount of money on his birds and cats ($411,777.00) as he did on his own children ($228,821.00 - child support); his biting and kicking and cursing and just plain obnoxious crudeness makes for good copy. Just go away, Mike. Lennox Lewis beat you. The rest of us are just tired of you.

Or what about the controversy of steroid usage in baseball? Yeah, I know, it's been talked about to death, but when former players are coming forward telling the press of their own experience with abusing steroids, what can you expect? Ken Caminiti, retired MLB player stated, "At first I felt like a cheater. But I looked around, and everybody was doing it." Everyone, huh? Nice justification, Ken. Nothing to admire here, let's move on. The last bit of class, (except for maybe Sammy Sosa) Cal Ripken, Jr. and Mark McGwire, have retired. America's Pastime is fading into the past...

And then there's the NBA. Not much class left there either, save The Admiral, David Robinson - the San Antonio Spurs veteran and his teammate, Tim Duncan. That's hard to say coming from a Jazz fan. Allen Iverson may have cleaned up his act to the media's purview, but how many copies of that trashy rap song are still out there Allen? How many more of these big men playing kid's games are going to whine about their lives, the money they make (or to hear them tell it, the lack thereof), which lousy team they've been traded to, and how a 50 thousand square foot garage just ins't large enough for their Cadillac Escalante's and Lincoln Navigator's. Shaq-Attack, indeed. Oh, and don't get me started on Shaq...

Of course, not all professional athletes are whiny, cry-baby, preening narcissistic snakes. Pat Tillman definitely isn't. He turned down a three-year contract proposal from Arizona worth $3.6 million for a new job that might pay $18 grand a year if he's lucky. Tillman left his glory, money and fame to join the United States Army, in hopes of becoming an Army Ranger. He wants to serve his country in its time of dire need. Instead of cracking heads on the gridiron, he wants to take Osama's team out.

Other athletes gave up promising careers in the National Football League to serve this country in a time of armed conflict. Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach and former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rocky Bleier both did tours of duty during Vietnam. Let's not forget Bob Kalsu - who gave the supreme sacrifice. Kalsu was the only active NFL player to lose his life in that horrid war. First Lieutenant Kalsu died July 21, 1970, on an Ashau Valley mountaintop known as Firebase Ripcord. His 11th artillery unit of the 101st Airborne Division had been pinned down for weeks by relentless enemy fire. His was the ultimate sacrifice.

Still more athletes served their country when she needed them. Baseball's Ted Williams served in both World War Two and Korea. Joe DiMaggio enlisted in the Army. Stan Musial served in World War Two, as well. Notice anything missing here? The younger generation of professional athletes. Athletes from the same generation as Tillman. Go figure.

Pundits who have chosen to write about Tillman's decision (mostly cynical sportswriters) have questioned Tillman's "motivation." He's not talked much to the press on his choice to leave the NFL and become an Army soldier, so rumors, allegations and sheer snobbery by those aforementioned pundits runs amok. I guess it's difficult for some folks to grasp that a man could leave a professional sports team contract on the table to settle for three hots and a cot, courtesy of Uncle Sam's Army. Ever heard of patriotism, guys?

And that's why Pat Tillman is a hero. Not because he's left the glory of the NFL behind, not for his Pro-Bowl seasons in Arizona - but because loyalty to his country and the safety of its citizens comes first with Tillman. A Cardinal teammate stated of Tillman; "He is a man who loves this country."

And your country loves you, Pat. Thank you.

 

© 2002 Lori Cutshall

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