Pat Tillman, the beloved NFL star who became an Army Ranger after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004. More than 13 years later, on Sept. 25, a photograph of Tillman appeared in the chaotic Twitter feed of President Donald Trump amid a barrage of tweets lambasting NFL players for “disrespecting our Flag & Country.”
The president’s retweet of the Tillman photo — accompanied by the hashtags #StandForOurAnthem and #BoycottNFL — is in an apparent endorsement of the message that the NFL players who take a knee in silent protest during the traditional pre-game national anthem dishonor those who died serving our country in combat.
Tillman’s widow, however, says that Trump’s retweet of Tillman’s photo belies a true understanding of what her husband actually believed he stood for when he passed up a multi-million dollar contract by the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army at the onset of the Global War on Terror.
“Pat’s service, along with that of every man and woman’s service, should never be politicized in a way that divides us,” Marie Tillman said, in comments relayed to CNN’s Brian Stelter. “We are too great of a country for that.”
“Those that serve fight for the American ideals of freedom, justice and democracy,” she continued. “They and their families know the cost of that fight. I know the very personal costs in a way I feel acutely every day.”
— Marie Tillman (@mariektillman) September 26, 2017
Last week, Trump told a rally in Alabama that owners of NFL teams should fire any player who kneels the during national anthem, saying, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now.”
The president has since doubled down on his criticisms of what he and his supporters see as NFL’s tolerance of an anti-American ritual. Many players across the league have united in solidarity against the president’s harsh criticisms.
The booing at the NFL football game last night, when the entire Dallas team dropped to its knees, was loudest I have ever heard. Great anger
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
Trump, who received five draft deferments, including for heel spurs, during the Vietnam War, had at least one thing in common with the late Tillman: they were both critics of President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq, where Tillman served a tour of duty.
But as The Washington Post notes, Tillman had a reputation for being a much more enlightened than Trump’s preferred version of him seems to suggest. “No one who knows anything about Pat Tillman (R.I.P.) can credibly assert he would endorse this tweet, or POTUS RTing it,” CNN’s Jake Tapper wrote on Twitter.
According to a 2005 San Francisco Chronicle article about the Army’s controversial treatment of Tillman’s death, the former Cardinals safety was known among his friends and family as a “fiercely independent thinker” whose “interests ranged from history books on World War II and Winston Churchill to works of leftist Noam Chomsky,” a ‘favorite’ author and a vocal critic of the Trump administration.
“The very action of self expression and the freedom to speak from one’s heart — no matter those views — is what Pat and so many other Americans have given their lives for,” Marie Tillman told Stelter. “Even if they didn’t always agree with those views.”
“It is my sincere hope that our leaders both understand and learn from the lessons of Pat’s life and death, and also those of so many other brave Americans.”