Class is fairly rare in the NFL. Honor, courage and bravery are rarer still. But former Arizona Cardinal safety Pat Tillman possessed all of these qualities in spades.
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The Arizona Cardinals selected Tillman in the 7th round of the 1998 NFL Draft.
As the Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin hazing scandal continues to unfold, it has recently come to light that Tillman stood up to locker room bullying in his rookie year. Teammate Zach Walz was taped to a goalpost in the 100-degree heat of the Arizona sun. Ignoring the warnings and threats of the veterans, Tillman freed up Walz. That speaks volumes to Tillman's valiant character.
Tillman changed positions at the pro level. He made an impact at safety, setting a franchise record for tackles. Success never changed him, though. He remained humble, choosing to drive the same old beat up truck from his college days which didn't even have air conditioning. During the offseason, he spent his time volunteering for the Boys and Girls Club and furthering his education.
Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Tillman chose to forgo a $3.6 million contract extension to enlist in the Army alongside his brother, Kevin, who gave up the opportunity to play pro baseball for the Cleveland Indians. They completed basic training together in September, 2002, and subsequently became members of the second battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment.
The honorable and noble decision Pat Tillman made to eschew an NFL playing career to serve in the Armed Forces was fateful, indeed. Sadly, while serving in Afghanistan, he perished in what was later revealed to be a friendly fire incident on April 22nd, 2004. He was a recipient of both the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals, among others.
Friends and family members created the Pat Tillman Foundation later that same year. Its mission is to invest in military veterans and their spouses through educational scholarships to build a more diverse community of leaders committed to the service of others. Tillman's legacy endures to this day.
On this Veterans Day, let us remember to thank those who have served in the military. And to the soldiers who have paid the ultimate price for protecting the freedoms we hold dear, we offer our deepest gratitude.