TCS Daily

A Man for Others

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - April 26, 2004 12:00 AM

When former Phoenix Cardinals football player Pat Tillman was offered more money to play for a better team (the St. Louis Rams -- a perennial favorite for the Super Bowl) he did the only thing that came naturally to him. He turned St. Louis down. Tillman had spent his college years at Arizona State University, and was drafted by the Cardinals. He felt a sense of loyalty to the people of Arizona, and believed that he owed them for the fact that Arizonans had played such a crucial part in helping to get his career off the ground in the first place. In a day and age when so many athletes forsake loyalty in search of fame and the almighty dollar, Tillman's decision to stick with those who had stuck with him was exceptional and praiseworthy.

After the September 11th attacks, Tillman once again felt the pull of loyalty -- this time to his country. In prime physical shape, Tillman announced that while his love for football remained undiminished, his love of country and his desire to contribute to its protection led him to turn his back on a promising sports career -- and the millions of dollars it promised -- for a life of toil, deprivation and the physical risk that comes from exposure to war as a member of the elite Army Rangers.

Naturally, the story captured the imagination of the media, which besieged Tillman with interviews. So again, Tillman did what came naturally to him. He turned down all interview requests, patiently explaining that he was no different than any other soldier who put his life on the line for his country. In a day and age when self-effacement too often gives way to self-aggrandizement, Tillman helped remind us that personal glory was nowhere near as important as being of service to others, and helping to protect the lives, fortunes and sacred honor of one's countrymen.

We all hoped that the story of Pat Tillman's life would end with him reaching a ripe old age, surrounded by friends and loved ones. We hoped that it would have been a story of a life complete -- one that perhaps might have allowed him to return to the sport he loved in more peaceable days. We hoped that he might have had a life that would have allowed him to stand as a living inspiration for decades to come so that when we became distracted from what is truly important -- as we are sometimes wont to do -- Pat Tillman could step forward and remind us. We hoped that he would have had the length of years to spend with his wife, and enjoying the companionship of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Of course, we all knew that because of his decision to step forward and volunteer to bear arms for his country, there was always a distinct possibility that none of these dreams would ultimately come true. Still, when the news came that Pat Tillman's life was cut short, it wounded us in a manner many of us failed to expect.

So now we are left grieving Tillman's loss, as we have grieved over the loss of hundreds of servicemen and women who have served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan. And yet, it bears remembering just how rich a legacy Tillman has already left. He showed us that the only riches worth pursuing come from the personal satisfaction derived from serving others. By his courage and example, he inspired the country he loved and the comrades-at-arms who served at his side to carry on in the war against terrorism, and too ensure that we win the victory we ultimately shall -- and must -- win. And given the sudden and newfound interest in reinstating the draft (which C.C. Kraemer so effectively argued against), Tillman's example reminds us that despite concerns, the best America has to offer, still steps forward to defend her in the most critical of hours.

If Pat Tillman could speak to us now, he would once again do what came naturally -- reminding us again that we shouldn't single him out for attention, and that his life was no more important than the lives of the other soldiers with whom Tillman served. We should certainly hasten to respect that sentiment, and keep in mind the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who serve and protect us. And yet, the memory of Pat Tillman's service will not fade into the background. The U.S. Army Rangers are known for being the tip of the American military spear. "Rangers lead the way" is their motto. Pat Tillman's service and sacrifice makes him the quintessential Ranger, and his personal example of leadership will inspire in death as it did in life. May he be always recalled as a leader in the company of other leaders. We are the poorer for having lost him, but the better for having known him. And we will forever be strengthened by the power of his example.


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