Not a political thread - just a great article in today's SF Chron that talks about his younger bro's eulogy...
Just when we thought we had a pure and simple hero, a millionaire athlete who gave up wealth and fame to become the ideal patriot, to make the ultimate sacrifice, his friends and family complicated everything. They turned Pat Tillman into a human being Monday, showing us what was really lost during that ambush in Afghanistan, insisting that we question every assumption we've made since he died an icon on April 22.
Yes, there were uplifting tales, moments when tears and pride swelled in everyone watching Tillman's memorial service at the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden. There were jarring moments, too, and they carried the message of the afternoon -- "challenge yourself" -- more powerfully than those laden with conventional inspiration.
Tillman's youngest brother, Rich, wore a rumpled white T-shirt, no jacket, no tie, no collar, and immediately swore into the microphone. He hadn't written anything, he said, and with the starkest honesty, he asked mourners to hold their spiritual bromides.
"Pat isn't with God,'' he said. "He's f -- ing dead. He wasn't religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he's f -- ing dead.''
What? This didn't happen for God, as well as country? A professional athlete turned soldier, and we're supposed to believe that he'd have no use for piety? Robbed of a cliche, where does that leave us?
His brother-in-law and close friend, Alex Garwood, described how Tillman handled his duties when he became godfather to Garwood's son. He came to the ceremony dressed as a woman. Not as a religious commentary. He was doing a balancing act.
"We had two godfathers, no godmother,'' Garwood explained. And what NFL player turned Army Ranger wouldn't don drag to make that math work?
Who on earth was this guy?
He was the same person who often talked late into the night with his linebackers coach at ASU, prying apart stereotypes about college football players and future soldiers.
"He talked about gays,'' Lyle Setencich, the former ASU assistant said. "He asked me, 'Could you coach gays?' " Setencich told Tillman yes. He could, and he had. He repeated that at the memorial service, televised on ESPN, in front of the sports world, showing another side of a coach, another side of an American hero.
Tillman talked about everything, with everyone. According to the speakers, he had read the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and he underlined passages constantly. Garwood recalled how he'd mail articles to friends, highlighting certain parts and writing in the margins: "Let's discuss.'' A quotation from Emerson, found underlined in Tillman's readings, adorned the program.
It concluded with this: "But the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.''
Yet he was a team player. When the Arizona Cardinals lost their kicker early in a game, Tillman cut into a conversation between the team trainer and head coach Dave McGinnis. "You know who's kicking off for us now, don't you?'' McGinnis said, quoting Tillman, a safety who had no real credentials for the kicking job. Most pro athletes wouldn't risk humiliating themselves that way.
"Pat didn't want to be the focal point, but he liked being out front,'' McGinnis said, "if that makes any sense.''
Tillman's roommate in the pros, Zack Walz, took a newspaper clipping to the podium and read about how he and some Cardinals teammates had made up faux dog tags for themselves, declaring their unit a band of warriors. "Soldiers, battlers, lay it on the line,'' Walz said, sniffling as he scanned the clip. "What the hell did we know? Listen to the words. Listen to the metaphors. ... How hollow they ring.''
When Tillman came home late last year from his first tour of duty, Walz said that he understood the difference now, what genuine war and real dog tags meant. A couple of weeks later, he received a gift in the mail, Tillman's dog tags.
"I'm holding them in my hand now,'' Walz said, "but they will never be this far from my heart again.''
Tillman's respect for his former teammate holds another lesson. Since he died, it has been fashionable to contrast his sense of duty with the petulance and inflated sense of importance in modern athletes. Still, Tillman was an athlete as much as he was a soldier.
It has been said over and over that he wouldn't want to be revered while we ignore the other soldiers lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. Would he want his former friends in football belittled, their values bashed as a way to measure his sacrifice? That's too easy.
By the time the ceremony ended, after his brother and brother-in-law sipped the Guinness that Garwood poured in Tillman's honor, the funny, thinking, wild, crazy man had come to life. The family's loss, the loss of every soldier's family, seemed more real.
Tillman wasn't an icon anymore. He was a man you wanted to know, to spend time with, to lift a Guinness alongside. But that had become impossible, the price of war, because his brother was right. Pat is dead. He's f -- ing dead.
Interesting, huh? So many have tried to assign meaning to this, when in actuality this dude was pretty complex.