According to Sports Illustrated, Pat Tillman’s decision to turn down the Arizona Cardinals’ deal was motivated by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Per Bleacher Report, as Tillman sat watching the towers crumble, he told a cameraman that his great-grandfather had been at Pearl Harbor. “A lot of my family has given up, gone and fought in wars,” he said. “I haven’t really done a damn thing as far as laying myself on the line like that. So I have a lot of respect for those that have and for what the flag stands for.”
When he returned from a honeymoon with his wife, Marie Tillman, Pat enlisted in the military along with his brother Kevin Tillman, a minor league baseball player. The San Francisco Chronicle notes that the two siblings strived to keep their enrollment on the down low. When they were awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award by ESPN in 2003, neither attended, as they didn’t believe they deserved it more than others. This left their younger brother, Richard Tillman, to accept it on their behalf. “Pat and Kevin don’t think they are better than anyone else,” Richard told Army News Service (via the Chronicle).
“Specialist Tillman soon journeyed deep into the Afghan wilderness to hunt the Taliban and al-Qaeda,” Time wrote when they named Pat their “Person of the Year” in 2004. Sadly, it was there, near the mountains of Pakistan, that the events surrounding Pat’s death ultimately unfolded.