Advocates of peace, truth, and basic human decency on Sunday excoriated the National Football League's "whitewashing" of former Arizona Cardinal and Army Ranger Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan by so-called "friendly fire" and the military's subsequent cover-up – critical details omitted from a glowingly patriotic Super Bowl salute.
As a group of four Pat Tillman Foundation scholars chosen as honorary coin-toss captains at Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Arizona were introduced via a video segment narrated by actor Kevin Costner, viewers were told how Tillman "gave up his NFL career to join the Army Rangers and ultimately lost his life in the line of duty."
The video did not say how Tillman died, what he thought about the Iraq war, or how the military lied to his family and the nation about his death. This outraged many viewers.
"Obviously the army killing Pat Tillman and covering it up afterwards is the worst thing the U.S. military did to him, but the years they've spent rolling out his portrait backed by some inspirational music as a recruiting tool is a surprisingly close second," tweeted progressive writer Jay Willis.
I worry that young people may not know,& older folks may have chosen to forget,the true story of Pat Tillman,an NFL player, a soldier, & great man whose disturbing “friendly fire”death was used by our govt to perpetuate the justification for an unjust war. https://t.co/W4C7mWvbpv— Sherrilyn Ifill (@SIfill_) February 13, 2023
"Pat Tillman called the Iraq invasion and occupation 'fucking illegal' and was killed by friendly fire in an incident the military covered up and tried to hide from his family," tweeted Washington Post investigative reporter Evan Hill.
"I'm writing a book for FIRST GRADERS on Pat Tillman that contains more truth about his life and death than the NFL just provided at the Super Bowl," wrote author Andrew Maraniss.
"Another year of hijacking the Pat Tillman story and not telling that
he hated the Iraq War and was killed by the military," said
one Twitter user.
"Tell the real story of Pat Tillman or get off the screen," fumed
Tillman, 25 years old at the time, turned down a $3.6 million contract with the Cardinals to enlist in the U.S. Army in May 2002 after the 9/11 attacks on the United States. He expected to be deployed to Afghanistan. Instead, he was sent to invade Iraq – a country that had no ties to 9/11. Tillman quickly came to deplore the "fucking illegal" war, and even made "loose plans" to meet with antiwar intellectual Noam Chomsky, according to The Intercept's Ryan Devereaux.
Pat Tillman was a beautiful soul. That he thought the war in Iraq was "illegal as hell" is not something to hide. It is part of what made his soul so beautiful.— Dave Zirin (@EdgeofSports) February 12, 2023
As Tillman's brother Kevin sardonically wrote:
Somehow we were sent to invade a nation because it was a direct threat to the American people, or to the world, or harbored terrorists, or was involved in the September 11 attacks, or received weapons-grade uranium from Niger, or had mobile weapons labs, or WMD, or had a need to be liberated, or we needed to establish a democracy, or stop an insurgency, or stop a civil war we created that can't be called a civil war even though it is. Something like that.
Pat and Kevin were sent to Afghanistan on April 8, 2004. Stationed at a forward operating base in Khost province, Pat was killed on April 22, 2004 by what the army said was "enemy fire" during a firefight.
However, the army knew in the days immediately following Tillman's death that he had been shot three times in the head from less than 30 feet away by so-called "friendly fire," and that U.S. troops had burned his uniform and body armor in a bid to conceal their fatal error.
"The deception surrounding this case was an insult to the family, but more importantly, its primary purpose was to deceive a whole nation," Kevin Tillman testified before Congress in 2007. "We say these things with disappointment and sadness for our country. Once again, we have been used as props in a Pentagon public relations exercise."
Hearing on Tillman, Lynch Incidents: Kevin Tillman’s Opening
Tillman's father, Patrick Tillman Sr., told the Washington Post in 2005 that after his son was killed, "all the people in positions of authority went out of their way to script this. They purposely interfered with the investigation, they covered it up."
"I think they thought they could control it, and they realized that their recruiting efforts were going to go to hell in a handbasket if the truth about his death got out," he contended. "They blew up their poster boy."
The following year, Tillman's mother Mary was interviewed by Sports Illustrated and blamed US military and George W. Bush administration officials all the way up to then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for covering up her son's killing.
"They attached themselves to his virtue and then threw him under the bus," she said. "They had no regard for him as a person. He'd hate to be used for a lie. I don't care if they put a bullet through my head in the middle of the night. I'm not stopping."
Brett Wilkins is is staff writer for Common Dreams. Based in San Francisco, his work covers issues of social justice, human rights and war and peace. This originally appeared at CommonDreams and is reprinted with the author’s permission.