Ten years ago today, I had great seats at the NFL draft at the Jacob Javitz Center in New York City. It was a few days after my 15th birthday.
It was a hell of a draft – Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger. As a young football fan, I was in heaven.
The announcement came on the screen used to announce the picks – Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals safety who had enlisted in the Army, was dead.
Killed in action in Afghanistan.
At 15, I was struck by his story of service and sacrifice. I asked my Dad for a framed Pat Tillman jersey. I wanted to hang it in my room.
In the 10 years that followed, that framed jersey has collected a ton of dust in storage as I enlisted in the Marines, deployed to Afghanistan, transitioned out of active service, and entered college.
Service members honor Tillman’s death annually through a run in his honor. Hundreds of military veterans and their spouses have gone to school under the scholarship founded in his honor, and pursue careers in the interest of service and sacrifice.
Also come to light in the last 10 years is the cautionary tale of Tillman’s death, largely through the documentary “The Tillman Story.” Military brass initially reported his death, which was caused by friendly fire, as an act of heroism. In doing so, those leaders lost sight of serving the ones they lead in favor of the political picture.
It was less than anyone who died in service to their country deserved. But it hits a real nerve when I think about it in the context of Pat Tillman, a hero of my teenage self.
His story now to me is more than one of service, more than being bigger than yourself; it’s about him becoming a victim of the system he sought to serve.
It’s a phenomenal story, and one that has made me a better man.
Thanks for that, Corporal Tillman.