We were saddened to hear of the death of Pat Tillman, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals, while serving in
Afghanistan. Following the terrorist attack on 9/11, Pat decided to accept the risks of military
service to pay something back for what our country has provided him. We honor that
sacrifice, and clearly it has struck a chord among Americans at large.
In past wars, America's athletes have rallied for their country. Ted Williams is the most memorable, a great baseball player whose best
playing years were spent fighting in World War II and Korea. Enos Slaughter, who was later a baseball coach at Duke, joined him, as did Bob Feller, Dizzy Dean, Larry Doby, who fought for America even while America didn't fight for him, Hoyt Wilhelm, Gil Hodges, Yogi Berra, Bobby Jones, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, and hundreds of other
prominent athletes. Fortunately for them, they survived, even though they were in the midst of action. Out of the Hall of Fame baseball players, Warren Spahn came closest to making the ultimate sacrifice when he was injured when the Remagen bridge collapsed.
A notable athlete who survived World War II was Lou Brissie. Brissie was a true war hero, having won a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart in Italy. He was serving with the 351st Infantry when he nearly lost his leg to a German artillery shell. His second Purple Heart resulted in 23 operations to reconstruct his left leg, yet he had the strength and
perseverance to come back and pitch in the major leagues starting in 1947.
The only major league baseball player to have given his life for his country was Eddie Grant. Eddie died in the Argonne Forest on October 5, 1918, fighting in World War I.
a different capacity, one should also mention the amazing Moe Berg, who was one
of America's most effective spies in World War II.
No matter where you stand
on the current uses of military force, Pat Tillman is a guy who was willing to
risk everything, for whatever his reasons were - he never
articulated them - and made the greatest possible sacrifice. In a very
different, by comparison almost trivial capacity, Mike Krzyewski talks about the
importance of belonging to something bigger than yourself. In Pat Tillman's
case, he did it for you. Not for us, abstractly, but for you: for your
chidren, your parents, for you. We believe he understood there to be a
great danger, and that it was his obligation to resist it and, typically, he
gave it everything he had.
Now our obligation is to take his sacrifices
seriously and how best to honor the kind of man he revealed himself to be.
There's probably nothing we can do which is sufficient, but we believe he has
earned our enduring respect and gratitude. It would be nice to find a way to
show his family that his fellow citizens found him to be among the very finest
we have to offer.