Pat Tillman died April 22nd, 2004 as part of the United States’ imperialist occupation of Afghanistan, the first professional foot player to die in combat since Bob Kalsu was killed in Vietnam in 1970.
Tillman and his brother, a prospect for the Cleveland Indians, had enlisted on May 31st, 2002 and together joined the Army Rangers. On April 22nd, 2004 Tillman was killed.
While initial reports claimed he was killed when his patrol was ambushed, it was quickly discovered that he was in fact killed by a fellow American. The fatal wounds were three tightly-clustered holes, and indicate that either an M16 rifle or an M249 machine gun had fired the fatal rounds from close range. Whether Tillman’s death was accidental or intentional is not certain, but there is a great deal of evidence to suggest it was in fact intentional. Moreover, Tillman was openly opposed to George W Bush as well as the invasion of Iraq, and had planned to meet with Noam Chomsky upon returning to the United States after his deployment. Whether the killing was intentional or not, after he was killed his squad burned his body armor and journal.
While the exact circumstances of his death are not known (and given the nature of the Army’s recordkeeping, effectively unknowable) there is an admitted and comprehensive effort to not only disguise the nature of Tillman’s death, but to create conditions such that the cover-up of his death can be further forgotten. The Army knowingly lied to Tillman’s family, as well as in response to media inquiries, when discussing his death, and moreover has specifically used his image in a fashion that ignores his death as a possible-fratricide, specifically creating an intent of engaging in combat that is enough to preserve the valorous nature of his death.
Pat Tillman was killed by his fellow soldiers. Whether it was an accident or intentional is not the core of what is horrifying about Tillman’s life-after-death, but rather the means in which his death has been appropriated again and again in order to justify the violence of American Imperialism, how it has been repeatedly used as a means of recruiting student-athletes and strengthening the already-overwhelming relationship between the Department of Defense and the NFL.