Stop Taking My Hero’s Name in Vain

Alright, it’s soapbox time. I hate doing this because that’s not what I really want to do with this blog, but the self-righteous are annoying me today. What I really wanted to post about was strippers, but now that’s going to have to wait till next time. People are taking my hero’s name in vain, so now we all have to suffer. So buckle up.

When I saw that the Colin Kaepernick thing had resurfaced now that Nike has decided to involve him in a new ad campaign, I knew what was coming (Don’t worry, Kap haters, this isn’t about his protest — well, not directly). But you know what? I was going to ignore the predictable outrage over a marketing stunt. I’d already argued to death his right to protest (even if I don’t see eye-to-eye with him) because this whole country got kick-started because of a protest. We’re Americans, it’s what we do. No, I was still going to keep quiet — I have military family and friends, who I respect, and the debate with them grew rancorous and tiring, and no minds were changed. Last time, I told everyone till I was blue in the face that kneeling during the national anthem as a form of protest isn’t disrespectful because historically we kneeled before God and kings. Kneeling shows deference. Echoing this sentiment, Nate Boyer, a former Green Beret, told Kaepernick to modify his original protest from sitting because it would be perceived as more respectful. Hopefully, it would stop short-sighted people from missing the point (spoiler alert, it didn’t).

But I was determined — I wasn’t going to get involved this time. Even after a new group of misguided super patriots started burning their Nike shoes, I decided — Nah, it’s just not worth it. (By the way, Shoe Burners, you do realize Nike already has your money for the stuff you’re burning, right? I know it’s not going to help your social media numbers as much as a Youtube video of you dousing your kicks in lighter fluid and setting them ablaze, but if you and the other attention-seekers want to start hurting this mega-corporation, sell those shoes on eBay and take a few new shoe sales of Nike’s pockets. Stop making this about you and your social media exposure).

Misappropriating a hero

So what got me fired up? Pat Tillman did. Pat Tillman is a hero of mine, and it annoys me to no end when this manufactured outrage over patriotism starts up. Inevitably, some flag waver trots Tillman’s self-sacrifice out to support their agenda and their narrow version of patriotism. Usually, it’s a self-serving politician (like Congressman Lee Zeldin) or someone who hates libtards. They invoke Pat Tillman’s name to prove they’re more patriotic than the rest of us, but obviously, they don’t really know anything about Tillman; he was a complex man who died for more than a symbolic piece of cloth and a song, no matter how much he loved them.

Tweet from Lee Zeldin
This politician just doesn’t get who Pat Tillman was — he didn’t die for the flag or anthem.

I’ll admit up front that I never knew Pat Tillman personally. I was at ASU in grad school at the same time he attended but our paths never crossed. I watched his games and followed his on-field exploits and read numerous articles about him over the years, before and after his death, but I never got the chance to meet the man. He and Jake Plummer were two of my favorite Sun Devils, and I was ecstatic when they both ended up on the Arizona Cardinals. When Tillman turned down the Cardinals’ contract extension so he could join the Army after 9/11, I was proud of his character, and when we went to war, I was worried for his safety. I’ll admit it, I shed a few tears when I heard he died in Afghanistan and I was angry that they tried to turn him into a political tool after his death when I found out they’d lied and known he’d died under a hail of American bullets.

Pat Tillman on the cover of Sports Illustrated after his death
I still have my copy of this magazine.

An admirable mind

Those who knew and loved him say Tillman was intellectually curious, someone who tried to understand different viewpoints. That’s something that is sorely missing these days. As his friend Jake Plummer said on the radio today, he was a man of empathy, and as a supporter of the Constitution and freedom of speech, he would have tried to understand the protest and would have supported Kaepernick’s right to protest. As Plummer said when the earlier protest broke out, Tillman probably would have kneeled in support.

He loved this country deeply. He loved Americans — all of us. He didn’t join the military, like so many do, because he didn’t have any better options. In fact, he gave up millions of dollars so he could serve because other generations of Tillmans had served and he felt he hadn’t sacrificed as they had — so he and his brother Kevin joined the Army and became Rangers. But that didn’t mean they gave blind allegiance — they were thinking Americans, and those are in short supply. He was proud to serve his nation but grew disillusioned that we’d invaded Iraq when it had nothing to do with 9/11.

I’m taking this from a Deadspin article.

Here’s what Gary Smith wrote in his 2006 opus on Tillman, “Remember His Name.”

Everybody who thought he’d enlisted purely out of patriotism, they missed reality by a half mile. Sure, he loved America and felt compelled to fight for it after more than 2,600 people at the World Trade Center were turned to dust. But his decision sprang from soil so much richer than that. The foisting of all the dirty work onto people less fortunate than an NFL safety clawed at his ethics. He had uncles and grandfathers on both sides who’d fought in World War II and the Korean War, one who’d taken a bullet in his chest, another who’d lost a finger and one who’d been the last to leap out of a plane shot from the sky. On a level deeper than almost any other American, he’d reaped the reward of those sacrifices: the chance his country afforded him to be himself, all of himself. He yearned to have a voice one day that would carry, possibly in politics, and *he was far from the sort of man who could send others into a fire that he had skirted. His relentless curiosity, his determination to live his life as if it were a book that would hold its reader to the last word, pushed him into the flames as well. The history of man is war, he told his distraught brother Richard, so how, without sampling it, could he ever know man or himself completely? “Are you fucking crazy?” was all Richard could splutter.

[…]

Braveheart. That’s who he wanted to be, said a friend who saw the glow in Pat’s eyes as he watched the movie about the Scottish warrior. Trouble was, Pat’s wisdom quest was too honest, had carried him clean past that plane where good and evil are fixed and far-flung from one another, to a higher ledge up in the swirling fog where a man could see how right and wrong might rotate and trade places. It just became harder and harder to be Braveheart. Until 9/11, when for a moment there was moral clarity, a clarion call to arms, a chance to be that man. Sitting atop that bunker, 11 days into the invasion of a country that had hatched none of the 9/11 terrorists, it was dawning on Pat with each blast-wave lighting up the desert: That moment already was gone. Dawning on him that he’d flung himself into thin air on faith, in search of his highest self, toward a hollow tree that might not hold his weight.

*Emphasis mine because too often, these are the people who invoke his name (Zeldin excluded — he is a veteran).

Unfortunately, a lot of the people invoking Pat Tillman’s name and memory are anything but the thinking man he was. I see all kinds of arguments that want to make Kaepernick’s protest about patriotism when he’s said it’s not. I’ve even argued with vets who have no problem with Confederate monuments or with people displaying the Confederate battle flag, yet think NFL players are disrespecting their comrades who fell in battle. Somehow these players exercising their right to protest about what they see as a social injustice is more disrespectful than honoring long-dead secessionists who tried to tear this country apart and who killed and wounded hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers.

But I digress.

So to those who want to use Pat Tillman as your patriotism prop — stop it. Pat Tillman wasn’t a person who would make our flag or anthem more important than the ideals and rights they symbolize. He served and died for the principles our country was built on and the rights our Constitution conveys on us — especially free speech.

That’s my idea of a real patriot.

Here’s a little bit of satire to end on.

Photo attribution

You can buy a print of the Pat Tillman SI cover here.

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