A symbol of commitment and courage
Why did the death of one American soldier, albeit a famous one, attract so much attention?
Part of it was the stark contrast of the choices former football player Pat Tillman faced when he turned down millions of dollars in the pampered world of professional sports to join the Army Rangers.
Part of it, too, was his fame. A recognizable name, a guy who showed up on millions of TV screens on Sunday when he played for the Arizona Cardinals, Tillman became an example of the soldiers going overseas to fight the war on terrorism. Everybody knows somebody who is serving; lots of people knew Tillman was serving.
There was also the irony that a player from the sport of football, that rough-and-tumble sport where “battles are fought in the trenches” and teams “go to war” against each other, would decide to go where the fighting is real. That he died there only reinforces the distinctions between the fantasy world of sports and everything else.
But Tillman gave up no more and no less than any other soldier when he went to Afghanistan and Iraq.
He gave up his vocation for his duty. He left behind family and other loved ones, the comforts of home, the routine of the predictable for the routine of the dangerous.
He made a choice: Defending his country was more important than staying behind and enjoying the benefits and freedoms others were willing to risk their lives to preserve.
For that, Pat Tillman may be remembered as a symbol of the American soldier. He may be remembered for the courage of his conviction. He may be a reminder that wars demand sacrifice – of a country’s young, brave, talented men and women, of a portion of its future.
Tillman is a symbol of the commitment it takes to win a war. His death is a reminder that some heroes never come home.