Love it, hate it, or ignore it, it's football season again. We evidently need professional sport circuses to keep us distracted from the empire's latest gaffes. At the beginning of each of the last four football seasons, though, I found myself wishing that Pat Tillman was still wearing a football uniform and knocking players down on the field and not just another casualty in our now permanent state of war and imperial aggression. This football season is no exception.
Pat was a standout linebacker at Arizona State University, although he was supposedly undersized for the position. As a senior, he was voted the Pac-10 defensive player of the year. Pat also graduated with a degree in marketing (in 3.5 years) with a 3.84 GPA. The Arizona Cardinals selected Pat as the 227th pick in the 1998 NFL Draft. Pat played safety for the Cardinals and started 10 of 16 games in his rookie season. I watched Pat play his entire career and very early in that time period he became my favorite player to watch – college or NFL. Pat played football with a spirit and intensity that is difficult to describe. Anyone that watched him play the game knows what I mean. Pat had something extra inside him – some intangible – that made me want to watch him play. Pat always seemed to be around the ball making plays. He personified the "team player" concept. And man, could the guy put a hit on somebody.
Following 9/11, Pat completed the 2001 NFL season, enlisted in the U.S. Army in May 2001 (along with his brother Kevin), and completed the Ranger Indoctrination Program in late 2002. It has been well publicized that Pat turned down a multi-million dollar contract from the Cardinals to instead join the Army. It has also been reported that Pat turned down a much larger contract from the St. Louis Rams earlier in his NFL career because he wanted to remain loyal to the Cardinals.
Pat Tillman was a perfect recruiting story for the U.S. military machine. A highly paid professional athlete forgoes millions of dollars to supposedly "fight for our freedom." My first reaction was hard to describe, but it was a combination of sadness and disgust. Sadness because deep inside I knew our post-9/11 country was being hijacked, and disgust because I wrongly believed Pat to be just another shallow flag waver for our dying empire. I'm not afraid to admit that I was wrong as I could be. (Others were also dead wrong about him. The cartoonist Ted Rall did a very inflammatory editorial cartoon about Pat that portrayed him as an "idiot" who joined the Army "to kill Arabs.") My subsequent reading and research about Pat and his death told me a much different story than my initial impressions about him. It also reminded me about not being hasty to reach conclusions.
Pat and his brother were deployed to the Middle East as part of the 2003 Iraq invasion. Pat was later deployed to Afghanistan and was killed on April 22, 2004 near Sperah. He was only 27 years old. It is now well known that the Army blatantly lied about the circumstances of Pat's death and desperately tried to obscure them from the public and Pat's family, obviously concerned about losing its star recruiting tool. As disgusting as it is to write, Pat's death may have been more than a basic case of "friendly fire." In fact, Pat may have been murdered. In the most pure form of irony imaginable, Pat Tillman went from the military machine's perfect poster boy to its perfect nightmare. As it turns out, Pat was extremely intelligent and very well-read. He held views that were critical of the Iraq war, (calling it illegal) and he did not support the re-election of George W. Bush. It has also been reported that Pat intended to meet with noted anti-war activist and writer Noam Chomsky when he returned from Afghanistan. Pat also kept a detailed diary, the whereabouts of which remain unknown. We can only wonder about the interesting stories that diary would tell, should it still exist. With any luck, it has not been destroyed, but waits patiently somewhere.
When I came to understand more facts about Pat's death, I could only think that the end of our empire is closer than I would have believed. Our former great Constitutional Republic is terminally ill and Pat Tillman's death is but one symptom of its impending death. Our country was once a beacon of freedom that shone brightly to the world. Pat Tillman was an intelligent, strong, vibrant young man. Now, our Constitution is gasping its last breaths as its life is stomped out by crazed authoritarians and tyrants and Pat Tillman is gone forever – his death shrouded in outright lies, deception, mystery, and investigations. Pat willingly gave his life to the military machine, which gladly took it, exploited it, destroyed it, and then despicably obscured the circumstances of his death.
It is good for us and for Pat's family that truth is persistent. Truth is like grass. It can be burned, stomped out, covered up, or mowed down to nothing, but fresh green spouts will still tirelessly emerge into the sunlight. Truth especially hates to be covered in lies and deceit. Our military machine, with its cold, calculated agenda desperately wants the truth about Pat Tillman to remain underground and obscured from our view. I mourn the imminent death of our once great Republic, hijacked by hateful warmongers, liars, tyrants, and criminals. I miss Patrick Daniel Tillman. I wish he was still wearing #40 and playing in football games. I think the world and especially Pat's family will eventually find the truth about his death. Truth after all, is very persistent.
September 15, 2007