Finding the real message of Pat Tillman, hero

by Gary Shelton on May 31, 2016 · 1 comment

in general, NFL

Tuesday, 6 a.m.

It doesn't matter how he died. It matters how he lived.

He was the most honorable hero of us all. He was a man who walked away from fame and fortune, a man who believed in his country and its ideals. He stood for the right things. Even now, you can admire that about Pat Tillman, the Known Soldier.

Memorial Day, and you think of the soldiers you have known. The kids who did not come back from Viet Nam. The men from the gulf wars. From Afghanistan. The faceless sons and brothers who fell in all the skirmishes of all the years.

For our generation, however, it was Tillman whose face we knew, whose story we told. He could have stayed above it all and made millions with the Arizona

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Cardinals. He could have shown up for a few benefits and been admired. Instead, he enlisted, and he died.

Now, a dozen years after his controversial death, you think about Tillman, and what his life meant, what his enlistment meant, what his death after being shot by friendly fire left.

And you wonder: Why are so many still trying to make a buck now he is gone?

This is wrong. It has always been wrong. If we know anything about Tillman, it is that he didn't care for profit, and he didn't care for attention. And yet, there are still 450 items from con men and profiteers on eBay, hawking his memory, selling his souvenirs. If some fans could gather the pennies from his eyes and the bullets from his body, they would sell those, too.

There is a guy trying to sell a pair of game-worn cleats for $3.6 million, roughly the size of the Cardinals contract that Tillman walked away from. You wonder. How did the guy get the cleats? Were they a gift from a friend? Something picked up at a garage sale? It doesn't matter. For a little money — a lot of money — the guy is willing to sell them. Heck, he's even increased his price since 2012, when he wanted $3.2 million.

There is a seller hawking a signed jersey and hat. He wants $24,999.

There is a football for sale, signed by Tillman and Jake Plummer for $1,495. It would be more, I imagine, if not for Plummer's autograph.

There is a 3x5 index card with Tillman's autograph. The seller wants $1,895 for it. Don't you imagine him leaning over a fence, pleading for the signature, talking about how much it meant to him. Evidently, it does not mean as much as cash.

There are jerseys and caps, photos and patches. There is a signed baseball. Everything that Tillman touched, everything he wore, seems to be for sale. Not to raise money for charity, or for Tillman's Foundation. Not to help out former Rangers who might be struggling. These are memories for sale. Heroism, it turns out, is profitable.

These are scavengers, picking the bones of an admired person. The issue here is not ownership. The issue is morality. Tillman's memory should be priceless. Instead, there are nothing but price tags.

You wonder: Just how many jerseys did Tillman wear in 39 games as a professional? Enough to still be offered on dozens of listings 14 years later?

Back in 2004, I wrote a similar column. Back then, there were only 322 items on eBay. Now, there are 228 more. Once, Tillman represented the best of America. Now, his memory has turned into part of the worst.

In those days, I contacted a lot of the sellers and questioned their motives. I got a lot of “its mine” or “I have a right'' to sell it. But does that mean you should make a profit off a fallen hero? Does that mean that rookie card you are so proud of should be put up for auction?

A reader back then had a suggestion. Why not donate the proceeds to the children of fallen soldiers? Tillman lived for the greater good. Why can't the hucksters?

Here's the bottom line. All of us should admire the memory of Tillman's life. His love of his country, his belief in the system, his willingness to sacrifice.

Today, of all days, why can't that be our souvenir of Tillman?

Why can't we all strive to be like him? For free.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Barry McDowell May 31, 2016 at 5:20 pm

It does make you wonder about the autograph hunters–kids, adults, whatever. What percentage of these people simply want the autograph for the purest of reasons? I’ll go with 70% but maybe that’s too idealistic!

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