I have just finished reading Where Men Win Glory by John Krakauer and it is a story that stays with you. The book is about Pat Tillman, the NFL player who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. The thing that struck me the most about Pat’s character is that he never chose the easy path and was always true to his values.
The picture most Americans have about Pat Tillman as a hero does not extend beyond the government propaganda about his life and death or video from ESPN. Pat was not your stereotypical professional athlete who seeks the largest possible paycheck in exchange for his services. He was an example of the power of determination and demonstrated that mental attitude can drive your physical abilities to their outer limits.
After being told that his size would make it difficult to play high school football, Pat’s tenacity and outstanding play at Arizona State led to him being drafted in the 7th round in the 1998 draft by the Phoenix Cardinals. While with the Cardinals he was never was paid more than the league minimum. In 2000, his talents led to the offer of a five year $9.6 million contract with the Super Bowl Champion St. Louis Rams. He turned the offer down to stay in Phoenix with the team who had believed in him and earned $512,000 that year.
After watching the Twin Towers fall, Pat Tillman gave up his football career to defend our country. As he always did, Pat acted on his beliefs and tried to have a real impact on the things he considered important. He was a private person who had no desire to be the Army’s poster boy – in life or in death. Unfortunately, that is exactly what Pat Tillman became. The tragic irony is that the country that Pat fought so valiantly to defend chose to deliberately deceive his family and the American public about the details of his death. If only the Army could have shown the same level of integrity as Pat did during his lifetime.
As we approach the anniversary of 9/11, it is a good time to reflect upon how our lives have changed since that day and what we are doing to honor all of our fallen heroes and the soldiers still fighting to ensure our freedom. I think a good first step is to embrace the opportunities our country’s freedom affords us and make sure we are living our lives to their fullest potential, just like Pat Tillman did.
Christine L. Carleton, CFP®