It’s Sunday in America.
The first Sunday after a historic election. And whether you’re feeling elated or defeated, I think we can all agree that the country needs to come together. As Americans, we’ve always turned to sports to bond and unify us as one nation.
In this country we keep score. In this country we pride ourselves on competition. In this country we strive to be winners. And most certainly we look for inspiration from sports and the athletes who play them.
I remember in late October 2001, just weeks after 9/11 when George W. Bush threw out the first pitch in game three of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. The nation needed a sign that we’d be OK, that we would go on. The former President recalls shortstop Derek Jeter telling him prior to taking the mound “Don’t bounce it, they’ll boo you.”
W threw a strike and we all came together.
In the aftermath of the 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon, Big Papi took the microphone at Fenway Park and said “This is our f—ing city, and nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”
The crowd erupted in fist pumping cheers and we came together.
While each of those moments will resonate in the minds of most sports fans, none can compare to the true heroism of what former Arizona Cardinals defensive back Pat Tillman did. In May of 2002, eight months after the attacks on the World Trade Center, Tillman turned down a 3.6 million dollar contract to enlist in the United States Army. He was just 25 years old, in the prime of his professional career.
He died in combat two years later.
What Tillman left in his legacy should be a shining example to all that freedom isn’t free. More importantly is that he embodied everything about American values that we are taught as kids. He was an undersized underdog who, with hard work and dedication, made his dream come true. He lived by example and not for headlines, even refusing to do interviews after announcing he was enlisting.
“He didn’t come into the league to be validated,” said former teammate Aeneas Williams. “Somewhere along the line, Pat already had in his own mind ‘I know who I am and this game won’t make me’. . . Money wasn’t a motivating factor. Being the best he could be was. And he was a loyal person. Nothing could change that values that he had.”
There are a couple ways you can take this message right now, as a sports fan or simply as an human being. But not matter which angle you choose, it all comes down to that one word, VALUES. You see, when I heard that quote by Williams, that Tillman knew who he was and didn’t need to be validated, it struck a chord in me.
How many of us can say that? Honestly. Can you think of one athlete today who might do what Tillman did? It seems as if we’re all searching for validation and many of us never really find out who we are. The truth eludes us. And that’s alright, Pat was a rare breed.
But why can’t we use his story for inspiration?
Another thing I found fascinating about Tillman was the fact that his brother in law said when people met him abroad and asked him what he did for a living, Tillman would simply say “I work in Phoenix”, never mentioning he was a professional football player.
But the thing that struck me most and stayed with me was listening to one of Tillman’s final interviews before he was deployed as they asked him what word he’d use to describe himself best, and how he would be remembered. He simply said PASSION. He wanted to be known as somebody who lived with passion.
So I ask you my friends, are you living with passion?
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could wake up everyday wired like Pat? Why can’t we? Seems to simply be a mindset to me. And the reality is that many of us do, in fact, get into that mindset every once in a while. But that’s just it, every once in a while. You see the difference between the Tillmans of the world and the rest of us is consistency. What drove him was the simple desire to be the best he could be…at everything. His ability to set goals and his willingness to sacrifice to achieve them is something to be admired and reminded. He lived by a set of values that he wouldn’t stray from or break for anybody, not when his high school coach told him he was too small to play football and not when his family and teammates attempted to talk him out of enlisting.
It always comes back to passion. You could see it in his body language, running onto the field firing up the crowd with his helmet in his hand and his long hair swaying in the wind. You could hear it in his voice. In post-game interviews he was famous for saying “we kicked the s—t out of them” even though he knew it wasn’t proper for television audiences. But his passion came via his example. His actions after 9/11 trumped anything any athlete could say symbollically. And he paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Early in his career Tillman was asked, on a scale of 1-10, where do you perform best to keep your emotions in check? He said “an eight, except for when the National Anthem is playing, then I’m a 10.”
Pat Tillman is and always was a patriot. He lived his short life at a ten. Why can’t we?