Amid a string of tweets disparaging NFL players for staging protests during the national anthem, President Trump retweeted another user’s post that invoked former NFL star Pat Tillman, who became an Army Ranger after 9/11 and was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004. But while Trump endorsed the message that honoring Tillman should encourage athletes and others to “stand for our anthem,” Tillman’s widow strongly took issue with it.
“Pat’s service, along with that of every man and woman’s service, should never be politicized in a way that divides us,” Marie Tillman said, in comments relayed to CNN’s Brian Stelter. “We are too great of a country for that.”
“As a football player and soldier, Pat inspired countless Americans to unify,” Tillman said. “It is my hope that his memory should always remind people that we must come together.”
“Those that serve fight for the American ideals of freedom, justice and democracy,” she continued. “They and their families know the cost of that fight. I know the very personal costs in a way I feel acutely every day.”
Pat Tillman was a safety for the Arizona Cardinals from 1998 through the 2001 season. He was offered a multimillion-dollar contract by the Cardinals the following year but turned it down to enlist, a sacrifice that was quickly hailed as a model of patriotism and courage.
Monday’s comments were not the first time Marie Tillman has spoken out against the president. In January, after Trump first signed an order barring travel from seven majority Muslim countries, she said of her late husband, “This is not the country he dreamed of, not what he served for and not what he died for.”
After Trump’s retweet Monday, some noted online that Tillman was a far more complex figure than how he has often been portrayed since his death. A 2005 report by the San Francisco Chronicle, for example, used interviews with close family members and soldiers who served with Tillman to paint a picture of an independent thinker “whose interests ranged from history books on World War II and Winston Churchill to works of leftist Noam Chomsky, a favorite author,” and who “supported the Afghan war, believing it justified by the Sept. 11 attacks,” but was “very critical of the whole Iraq War.”
After several NFL players began this season by staging protests during pregame renditions of the national anthem, as ex-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had inspired others to do last season, Trump told a rally in Alabama Friday that team owners should “fire” them. “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out,” the president said.
Those comments were widely cited by NFL players, who staged protests in unprecedented numbers at every game this weekend. In turn, Trump used his Twitter account to repeatedly condemn the players for “disrespecting our Flag & Country.”
“The very action of self expression and the freedom to speak from one’s heart — no matter those views — is what Pat and so many other Americans have given their lives for,” Tillman said Monday. “Even if they didn’t always agree with those views.
“It is my sincere hope that our leaders both understand and learn from the lessons of Pat’s life and death, and also those of so many other brave Americans.”