Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pat Tillman: Honoring a Hero

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals will duke it out tomorrow night for the biggest prize in the biggest sport on the biggest stage in America. When discussing with my wife, Lori, who we'd be rooting for in the game, I told her I'd be pulling for the Cardinals. I think it's kind of like people wanting to see Barack Obama win the presidency. If he could do it, it gives hope for everyone.

In a similar way, the Cardinals have been arguably the most inept franchise in U.S. professional sports. Outside of this year, they have never been successful in my lifetime. In fact, not in my father's lifetime. They've been just that bad. At times they've made the Detroit Lions look like the Cowboys or Steelers. And now they are one victory away from winning it all.

In the hoopla surrounding their Super Bowl appearance is a story that is probably not getting told enough. And that is the story of Pat Tillman, the former Cardinals player that left fame and riches in the NFL in order to join the U.S. Army following the 9/11 terrorists attacks in 2001. He was killed in combat in Afghanistan nearly five years ago. Had he not voluntarily joined the military he likely would have been suiting up at safety for Arizona tomorrow evening.

Mike Bianchi, a sports columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, offered a suggestion in today's paper for an appropriate tribute for Tillman -- induct him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. My initial response was that Tillman is undeserving of such an honor. His play on the field, although solid and respectable, was not anywhere near the standards for Hall induction. But Bianchi offers a solid argument:

"...what better time than now for those 44 Hall of Fame voters to display the same qualities as Tillman himself once displayed — the desire to go above and beyond what is expected? Go against the grain. Ignore the critics and the criteria. Who cares if Tillman is not on the 17-name list that is to be voted upon today? Why not put him on the ballot as a write-in candidate? Just this once, don't vote on data and statistics, vote on heart and soul. Vote for the guy who made the ultimate contribution: He sacrificed his football career and gave his life. Vote for the man who gave up millions of dollars to defend millions of people. There are murderers, gamblers and drug addicts in the Hall of Fame, so why not a national hero? In a country obsessed with a TV depiction of American Idol, why not give the Pro Football Hall of Fame a real version?"
Why not? Why could Pat Tillman not be inducted into the Hall of Fame? There are other people like sportswriters and sportscasters that were inducted for their overall contribution to the game so why couldn't the same be done for Tillman? An interesting fact that Bianchi mentions is that even though the Cardinals have superstar players on their roster like Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Edgerrin James, Tillman's #40 jersey is still the team's top seller. Even nearly eight years after he played for the team, Tillman still inspires Arizona fans.

I think honoring him in this manner would send a message about the importance of sacrifice, courage and honor. He put a lucrative career to the side in order to fight for a cause much bigger than himself. With so many young people looking up to professional athletes that are all about themselves, wouldn't it be nice to honor someone that was all about others?

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