Pat Tillman

There was a story in the news that broke the other day that knocked me sideways. You probably heard about it. This guy, Pat Tillman, who was one of the relatively gifted few who was able to use his athletic gifts playing professional sports. In Pat’s case, he was a safety for the Arizona Cardinals professional football team. In the spring of 2002 this guy walked away from a $3.6 million contract offer from the Cardinals in order to join the U.S. Army. A gig that pays $18,000 per year. And, given the current state of affairs over in the Middle East, put Pat’s very life in jeopardy. And sadly, the very worst came to pass for this brave man –Pat was killed in Afghanistan.

I have tried to think of a similar circumstance, where a professional athlete or similar public figure walked away from a ton of bread and celebrity to serve his country. I can’t come up with one –can you? In these cynical, self-centered times, it is almost inconceivable for someone to do this. Would you do it? Give up your life as you know it to go over to a dangerous hostile environment to fight in an increasingly unpopular war? I’m not sure I would.

Yet, clearly our fight against terrorism is the most important conflict since World War II. Shouldn’t each of us do whatever we can to help America and her allies prevail? Most of us get through our day and only confront the issue of terrorism on the news each night. Then we go to bed, and get up the next morning and go back to work, or school, or whatever. Not Pat Tillman. He (and his brother) got directly involved and tried to make a difference. The thing is, some of us are cut out as soldiers, and some of us have talents in other areas. You could argue that somebody like Bill Gates would better serve America’s effort by keeping his company going and providing employment for thousands of Americans, than if he were to chuck it all and sign up in the military. Some of us might best contribute by raising our kids well, doing our jobs well. If you’re a student, you contribute by doing well in your classes. You know – living a good life. Making the world a little bit better because you got out of bed that day. Before he was killed, Pat Tillman refused all publicity for his act. He thought himself no different than any of the other men and women that he served with. And that’s another remarkable thing – doing a selfless act anonymously. Ever do that? Ever do a nice thing for somebody and feel gypped if you weren’t praised for it? It’s only human nature to feel that way, but I think if you look closer at your action, you’ll find that ultimately, doing good deeds for others makes YOU feel good. Its kind of “win/win.” And it can be contagious too –the person you helped may reflect upon his good fortune and in turn, help somebody else.

We all need role models in our lives. I have my musical heroes that I look to, especially when I suspect I may be phoning it in, not giving my best effort. I’ll imagine Thad Jones or John Williams peering over my shoulder, examining my work, and somehow I find the inspiration to redouble my efforts. The next time you suspect you are not taking the high road, maybe Pat Tillman will pop into your head, and provide the inspiration you need. And that may end up being Pat’s greatest contribution of all.