Memorial set up by fans of Pat Tillman outside Sun Devil Stadium where he played football for the Arizona State University Sun Devils and the Arizona Cardinals. (Credit: James Fee / Wikimedia Commons)
The disturbing facts of Pat Tillman’s story are well-known, and yet we go over them repeatedly—in the face of the hagiography—in search of answers to unsettling questions. Pac-10 defensive player of the year as a senior at Arizona State; a record-breaking safety for the Arizona Cardinals; he left a multi-million dollar contract on the table to enlist with his brother in the U.S. Army (he became an Army Ranger): “My great-grandfather was at Pearl Harbor and a lot of my family has gone and fought in wars… and I really haven’t done a damn thing” (ESPN Classic).
In this, Tillman was one of those young Americans who enlisted in the armed forces following the attacks on 9/11. What was unusual was that he was a professional football player and a millionaire.
There was a time in the country’s history when the children of the rich and the offspring of powerful politicians felt compelled to defend the U.S. in times of peril. Theodore Roosevelt’s sons served during World War I and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s sons served during World War II. George H.W. Bush and John F. Kennedy were decorated World War II veterans. Professional baseball players enlisted in droves during WW II. Ted Williams interrupted his career at its peak to serve during the Korean War.
But in our times, Pat Tillman was an oddity because he volunteered to serve. Even more, he was a notable exception who embarrassed us, who revealed, by his committed patriotism, the flimsy nature of our own. (more…)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady looks for an open receiver as his offensive line forms a pocket around him, 4 December 2011. (Credit: Jack Newton / Wikimedia Commons)
If a player enters an elevator with his girlfriend, punches her in the face, then knocks her out and drags her by the hair out into a hotel corridor, the NFL considers that the incident merits a two-game suspension, as in the case of Ray Rice, running back for the Baltimore Ravens. But if your team confabulates to deflate balls during football games, this merits a four-game suspension if you are Tom Brady.
If you are Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings and take a switch to your 4-year old boy, and whip him in his arms, legs and buttocks until he bleeds, the NFL will bench you for a season with a scolding letter (“you have shown no meaningful remorse for your conduct”), and then reinstate you. But if you play for the New England Patriots and do not participate willingly in NFL investigations, your team will be fined $1M and future draft picks.
If you make the above comparisons, you will be told that they are not valid. After all, what are a beaten woman and an abused child when compared to the “integrity” of the game of football, and the sense of “fair play” that must exist so we can place our bets and play our fantasy leagues? We can summon infinite amounts of righteous indignation when our games are threatened. (more…)