It ain’t all hot dogs, sunburn and fireworks. Some quiet moment on July Fourth finds many folk looking for affirmation, significance in the day. This year? There’s the latest CEO-CFO scandal, the betrayal in the boardrooms, tragedies in the fog of a far-off war, the strumming fear of the latest terrorist warnings, the chasms of the unknown. But there is something else, worth a very long thought. The decision of Pat Tillman.
He is 25. Born in San Jose, California, a graduate of Arizona State where he played football so well he was the Pac-10 conference defensive player of the year in 1997, who graduated in three-and-a-half years with a 3.84 grade-point average and was drafted by the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. Tillman turned down an offer of $9 million over five years to play for St. Louis because he was loyal to the Cardinals, who were offering him $3.6 million over the next three years. Tillman had it all. He married his high school sweetheart, Marie, honeymooned in Bora Bora in May, and returned to tell his agent and his coach of his decision. Tillman was joining the army. He wants to be a Ranger.
Where was the self-aggrandizing press conference to jingle the golden chains and flash the diamond earrings and beat the patriotic chest? There wasn’t one. His agent says the one thing Tillman absolutely will not do is talk about himself or his decision. Cardinals’ coach Dave McGinnis says, “It’s not just a snap decision. You’re not dealing with a guy who’s real shallow. You’re dealing with a guy whose waters run pretty deep.” Tillman had McGinnis make the announcement and through the team Tillman declined all interview requests. His agent, Frank Bauer, says he tried to talk the safety into playing a few more years and then joining the Army. “‘If I wait,'” Bauer quotes Tillman as saying, “‘I won’t be able to get into the special areas I want to get into.'” This is the closest thing you’ll get to a quote from Tillman himself. He is adamant about no interviews.
Have another hot dog and consider giving up $100,000 a month and the life of a sports hero for an E-4’s salary of $1,400 a month and the anonymity of an Army uniform. Lt. General Dennis Cavin, who oversees recruiting and initial training, says simply, “That is powerful.” Tillman hasn’t said so, but scuttlebutt is that September 11 had something to do with his decision. He took the oath of enlistment in Chandler, Arizona, May 31, and is due to report to Fort Benning, Georgia, July 8.
Tillman will be 28 when he is mustered out, having sacrificed three vital years in a demanding sport. It may be tough to give up Ranger tabs for shoulder pads again. Teammates were not greatly surprised by his decision. They knew he hears a different drummer. That snare drummer in the Spirit of ’76. So, if you are short on inspiration this July 4th, hoist one to a man who is not, Pat Tillman, a truly free safety.
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