Pat Tillman isn’t in the Hall of Fame. Should he be?


A statue of Pat Tillman stands outside University of Phoenix Stadium, where he played for the Arizona Cardinals. (Robert Laberge / Getty Images)

On the 10th anniversary of the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, there is a statue in his honor, a bridge has been named for him and a foundation helps to ensure that others will exemplify the code by which he lived.

But many have taken up another cause in the name of the man who quit a lucrative NFL career in order to enter the military after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Pat Tillman is still not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The debate has surfaced from time to time in the years since Tillman died from friendly fire and it was ignited again by NBC’s Cris Collinsworth after watching an ESPN “Outside the Lines” report on the man who may have pulled the trigger that day. “If I live to be a million years old, I will never understand why Pat Tillman is not in the NFL Hall of Fame,” Collinsworth tweeted. “Thanks ESPN. Great reporting.” He added, “I cannot name one person in NFL history that represents what I would like the NFL to be more than Pat Tillman. Shouldn’t that be enough HOF?”

It’s not as simple as that, though. Peter King, writing on MMQB.com, put forth a thoughtful counter-argument and noted on Twitter that the sacrifice by Tillman and other athlete/soldiers are honored in a big room in Canton, Ohio. All are recognized there and the Tillman exhibit is large (see it here). From King:

Should all 26 NFL players who have died in service to our country—either in World War I, Vietnam or Afghanistan—be enshrined in Canton? Is one NFL player’s service worth more than others’? Should every player who served in wartime be enshrined, or put in a wing of the Hall of Fame? […] And what about others who played football and went on to great things? Byron “Whizzer” White, a running back in the NFL, went on to be a Supreme Court justice. Jack Kemp quarterbacked the Bills, then became a nine-term Congressman and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Should they be in?

I think football players and coaches and executives should be in the Hall of Fame for what they accomplish as football players and coaches and executives, and not for anything else.

In an editorial, the Arizona Republic argued for enshrinement for the man who said when he enlisted in the Army, “I haven’t done a damn thing with my life.”

In death, Pat Tillman remains nearly as much a force of nature as he was in life — due, in large part, to the continuing efforts of his widow, Marie Tillman, to make the Pat Tillman Foundation a vital institution for helping veterans transition back to civilian life. The foundation has provided $4.6 million toward helping 290 men and women attend 85 colleges and universities around the country.

Why should the NFL enshrine Pat Tillman? No one makes the case better than Tim Hsia, an Iraq war veteran who is about to graduate from Stanford with a law degree and an MBA, which he earned with the help of the Tillman Foundation:

“He already is a legend,” Hsia told the San Jose Mercury News. “But his lasting impact might not be felt for 20 or 30 years. That’s when we can take measure of all the amazing things done by this group who all are linked to one person.”

From The Washington Post archives:

In the Kill Zone: The Unnecessary Death of Pat Tillman

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.

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Kelyn Soong · April 22, 2014