By Rich Herrera @RBIRich
For the past few days we have been talking non stop about Ray Rice. Once we find a story that shocks us to our core and strikes a nerve, we can’t get enough of the story.Until something new comes along to distract us like a shiny object. Hopefully the Ray Rice story will have a long-lasting impact on our society and shine a bright light on domestic violence. The other byproduct of the Ray Rice story is that we paint all the players in the NFL wide brush as thugs and criminals. There are plenty of solid men in the NFL that are role models and that make a difference in our country. Warrick Dunn builds homes for single mom’s and families, Vincent Jackson reaches out to military families in the bay area to make their lives better.
There is one very special NFL player that I think of often and that is Pat Tillman. A man who walked away from the wealth and privilege of playing in the NFL. He played in his hometown for the Cardinals in the same stadium he stared in for the Arizona State Sun Devils. Eight months after 9/11 he turned down a 3 million dollar offer from the Cards to enlist in the Army along with his brother and became Army Rangers. He did it without fan fair and without a speech. He didn’t sit down and have an hour-long special on cable to announce his decision. He simply answered the call to serve like thousands of men and women did in the aftermath of the attack on US soil.
I was working for Fox Sports at the time and the wounds for all Americans were still open and fresh. I remember waking up to the planes crashing into the twin towers. I got a call that we were not sure that we could broadcast from our studios in DC and to get ready because they might need me to run to a temporary studio to anchor even though I was on a week’s vacation. I looked outside my window and saw F-16 fighter jets flying in formation on patrol over my home which was 10 15 minutes away from LAX. I watched on TV as tanks rolled down the streets that I drove down every day in Southern California. The network didn’t need me after all so after the adrenaline died I sat down mesmerized like the rest of us glued to the TV, weeping from what the images of NYC, DC and PA brought to my living room. I was the first host on FOX SPORTS RADIO who did a regular sports talk show the Saturday after 9/11 and was terrified. What was I going to say to a national audience that had been thru so much? How could I talk about something so meaningless like sports when they are still pulling the bodies of firefighters and police from the rubble in New York. I took a call from a Redskins season ticket holder in DC who lost his brother at the Pentagon. He told me all about his brother and it seemed like we talked for hours. Our nation was hurt and feeling the pain of the cowards who attacked us on 9/11.
Eight months later I was working in Tucson Arizona for Fox, when the rumors of Pat Tillman walking away from the NFL started making its rounds. I was awestruck. How could he walk away from millions and the NFL to join the Army? What an amazing man. Is there anyone else that would have the guts to walk away from their dream job to fight for our country. I contacted the Cardinals PR staff and said I have to talk to Tillman on the radio show. They told me sorry he isn’t talking. I called the owner of the team and asked for help getting Pat on the radio to no avail. I asked the writers who covered the team and they said he isn’t talking. That was it no big sendoff, no big PR campaign. He spoke with a few writers and Jim Rome and that was it. When he finished boot camp and Ranger school he came by the Cardinals practice facility to say hello to his fellow teammates. Again no big press event, just Pat Tillman. He answered the call to duty like everyone who felt the need to serve like his family members before him.
Pat Tillman died serving his country like many of the best and brightest who didn’t come home. I lost my Sigma Pi Fraternity brother Major Jason George who was killed by a suicide bomber. I often sit and think of both of them and am in awe of the fact that they volunteered to serve and make the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe and free.
SO this 9/11 please don’t ever forget those we lost in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, the heroes that fought back to take back the plane in PA, and all of those who answered the call after 9/11 like Jason. When you think of an NFL hero NEVER EVER FORGET Pac 10 Defensive Player of the Year, SN Honda Scholar Athlete, College Football Hall of Famer, SI NFL All Pro and AMERICAN HERO Corporal Pat Tillman.