Pat Tillman: Fighting terrorism over the NFL

“The idea that my kids would allow someone else to fight their battles for them… I don’t think that sat well with either of them.”

Patrick Tillman Senior

Following the tragedy of 9/11, professional NFL player, Pat Tillman, turned down a three-year contract worth $3.6 million to play for Arizona Cardinal; the then-24-year-old wanted to serve his country, as the Pentagon put it: ‘the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror’.

As his father summed up, Tillman and his brother had zero interest in another person fighting their battles, and if that meant sacrificing his NFL contract, so be it, but, it also tragically meant sacrificing his life in ‘friendly fire’ in 2004.

Tillman second from left (standing) - Image Source: TheMovingArts
Tillman second from left (standing) – Image Source: TheMovingArts

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Pat lost his life fighting in Afghanistan; when the news broke in America, it was met with sadness, but a sense of pride at such an elite sporting athlete choosing service for his country over everyone’s dream – playing professional sport.

With such a high-profile casualty in the Middle East, the death was followed heavily by the media, and Tillman was awarded the Silver Star – the third-highest military honour. With this reporting, led to an enquiry into the former NFL star’s death: was Tillman really killed in ‘friendly fire’?

A few years after Pat’s death, the documentary, The Tillman Story, reported how he did not lose his life in this matter; it was a cover up from the US army. Instead, the former Cardinals player allegedly had a bullet in his head from his fellow soldiers.

During a ‘clearing operation’, April 2004, Tillman and his platoon reportedly exchanged fire with ‘friendlies’. Fellow soldier, Bryan O’Neal, claimed during the fighting that Pat was screaming – “I’m Pat Tillman! Cease fire!” – after throwing a smoke grenade to communicate to the platoon that the alleged enemy were ‘friendlies’.

The signals from Pat were ignored, he was shot three times in the head.

Image Source: YouTube
Image Source: YouTube

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Following Pat’s death, people at the scene were told not to speak of the incident. His brother – although not present during the shooting – was put into quarantine, in fear that word might spread to him of how his brother was killed.

It was a tragic moment both in the war on terror, and for America as a country; a twisted propaganda effort that majorly backfired. The national hero – who refused to accept such a status – tragically lost his life sacrificing the ultimate gift of the NFL, for a bullet in his head from his comrades.


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