Sgt. Pat Tillman, who died in a firefight in Afghanistan, is being properly eulogized across America. In a time of national peril, when little — if any — sacrifice is required of most of us, he went out of his way to make the ultimate contribution.
As a member of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, he walked away from a multi-million dollar contract in 2002. He was that moved by the events of Sept. 11. He quit football and enlisted in the Army. He then turned down all interviews that would have lionized his patriotism.
Tillman had always felt fortunate to live in a country where so many had it so good. He felt especially lucky that, as a well-paid professional athlete, he had it much better than most. In the patriotic aftermath of 9/11, he then felt obliged to give something in return. He gave his life.
That life of 27 years will be memorialized in many places in many ways, especially by the Cardinals and his alma mater, Arizona State University, where he was a summa cum laude graduate and an academic All-American.
Here’s a tribute suggestion. Could the media muzzle its sense of hero worship and athletic hyperbole and permanently refrain from using the word “hero” as it relates to sports? The world of games and those who play them has no heroes. It has players. Some make winning plays. Some are more exciting and dramatic than others. None, however, are “heroic.”
It demeans the memory of Pat Tilman to call those who play games heroes. Many aren’t even good people.
Tillman was an elite Army Ranger. He was also an elite human being. He was a hero.