This I Believe

Tim - Douglas, Massachusetts
Entered on January 18, 2007

A Perspective Worth Teaching

Pat Tillman’s story reminds us all that life, at times, can seem incredibly unfair.

In a football uniform, he had the tools and God-given talents to achieve on the grandest of stages, having performed in front of 70,000 people every Sunday and even larger national television audiences. In our country’s uniform, those same talents were on loan to the United States of America to fight terrorism. By all reports, he was an exceptional Army Ranger. They all are.

Pat Tillman shared a common perspective with the hundreds of thousands of young men and women who ably and bravely sacrifice their time from family and their comfortable lives here to defend our way of life against a strong and growing movement rooted in a principled ideology so perverse that few of us can truly comprehend it.

That he died via fratricide in the dangerous mountains of Afghanistan does not diminish his sacrifice or lessen its importance. It underscores the fact that life, at times, can seem incredibly unfair.

I don’t make society’s rules but professional athletes have always been placed on a pedestal. They sell sneakers, they appear in commercials, attend award ceremonies, court movie stars and, like it or not, serve as role models to the young and impressionable adults.

It’s just the way it is.

So, as a father, a New England Patriots season ticket holder, and avid fan of all-things National Football League, I’ve watched closely how the League has honored and celebrated Pat Tillman’s life and his decision to forego millions in guaranteed money to answer a call far greater than any Game Day.

I’m sorry, but the NFL has dropped this ball.

To date, the League has dedicated one week during the 2004 regular season to him, stopped players from wearing an emblem created in his memory, and missed the opportunity to do something meaningful, if only symbolically, during Super Bowl XL.

The National Football League should honor Tillman’s sacrifice and do something substantial here at home to ensure that one of their very best is treated as such. A good start is to ensure that no one wears Tillman’s jersey number. Not ever again. Such a decision would honor a football player turned soldier. Together, few can argue that the two do not deserve the distinction.

Some more background is in order.

I did not know Pat Tillman, but I used his story to touch the hearts and minds of at-risk low-income urban boys attending The San Miguel School in Providence, Rhode Island. Through my teachings I found his story to resonate incredibly well with the young men who, by no fault of their own, are on the brink of certain underachievement. They struggle everyday to find their place and, more importantly, their purpose.

Impressionable and looking for answers in Providence’s crime, drug and gang ridden neighborhoods, the students of San Miguel learned about Tillman and his belief that some things are worth fighting for – namely, hope, opportunity and the freedom that insures the two.

I could sit on the sidelines and watch this opportunity pass us all by or I could do something about it. I chose the latter.

My experiences at San Miguel led me to start a grassroots effort to respectfully ask the National Football League to retire Pat Tillman’s number 40 through a volunteer-driven website,

I am not alone in this belief. Since the site’s launch at Gillette Stadium before the first home pre-season game against Tillman’s Arizona Cardinals, hundreds of fans from New England and people throughout the country and military installations across the globe have responded to the site’s message in startling and most heartening of ways.

Our goal here is as pure as it is simple: Provide us – the fans who have made the League what it is today – the opportunity to teach Pat Tillman and the perspective he shared with all our servicemen and women to our sons and daughters.

A good start would be to retire the number and ensure that it hangs prominently for the fans and television cameras to see.