May 20, 2004  
Volume 98, Issue 01  

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One on One: remembering Pat Tillman

Larkin in the dark
Matt Larkin

Gazette Staff

I was flipping through my mom’s copy of People magazine one day when I noticed a troubling inscription on the top trim of the cover. It read, “Pat Tillman: Honouring a Hero,” and was accompanied by a picture of Tillman, the recently killed-in-action U.S. Army Ranger who abandoned a budding NFL career in 2002 to serve his country.

Now, what could possibly be problematic about paying tribute to a man who sacrificed a luxurious, glorious athletic career — and ultimately his life — for an arguably noble cause? I suppose I’m concerned about the immense level of attention Tillman has received in comparison to the hundreds of fellow soldiers and innocent civilians who have perished in Iraq over the last few years.

Does Tillman deserve to be honoured for the sacrifices he made? Absolutely. No one can deny that it takes a genuinely admirable human being to give up a blessed life to risk death, regardless of whether or not one supports military action in Iraq. However, when paying tribute to military casualties, western media outlets should not create a hierarchy of priority based on the past lives of the deceased.

The abundance of praise dished out for Tillman after his death is surely warranted, but would this man’s life be as heralded had he not been a professional athlete? I do not believe so.

Tillman is being honoured for the wrong reasons. For the press, his death is more an enticing human interest story than a heartfelt tribute. If my claim is incorrect, why do we not see hundreds of soldiers gracing the covers of People magazine from week to week?

Even as a non-Bush supporter, I technically have no issue with the response to Pat Tillman’s death. My problem centers on the fact that Tillman’s athletic career has generated favouritism. If he had been a dentist, his name would be lost in the body count, another faceless victim in the Middle East.

Dave Picard/Gazette
PAT TILLMAN — AMERICAN HERO? Though not pictured above, one has to wonder — is former NFL player Pat Tillman only being called a hero because he played professional football? The debate rages on.

Incredible Hurk
Ian Van Den Hurk

Sports Editor

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Pat Tillman spurned the opportunity to remain in the NFL and play for a multi-million dollar salary. His exit, an unprecedented move, was without a press conference, publicity campaign, or anything of that nature. He simply packed his bags and left with little explanation. He was not seeking hype or promotion. He believed that thousands of others were risking their lives for their country, and that he should do the same.

Ironically, the unassuming Tillman would likely have discouraged the exposure he has received in recent weeks. And that is exactly why he should be remembered. Tillman considered himself an average Joe Sixpack. He thought himself the same as any other man who should support his country, regardless of his status or stardom.

And now that he has passed on, people should reflect on the significance of Tillman’s decision. Whether or not you agree with Tillman’s choice or the war on Iraq is not important — what’s important is a man’s utter selflessness and his decision to do what he believed was right and just for his country. He abandoned a lifetime of riches and fame. How many others can say they would have done the same? I myself cannot.

In a time often saturated with greed, particularly in professional sports, Tillman sacrificed a great personal opportunity for what he believed was a greater cause. He serves as a beacon for exactly what every other soldier should stand for — a complete commitment to one’s country, regardless of societal stature.

The only difference is that Tillman’s unfortunate death put into perspective some of the real sacrifices that are made during wars. He is not honoured because he was an athlete. When he chose to become a U.S. Army Ranger, he gave that away. Instead, Pat Tillman has received coverage for being a hero, and justifiably so.



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