Today was Remembrance Day (Veterans' Day in the U.S.), so I've been doing a lot of reflecting on soldiers, wars and history. Ryan Gallivan has a good round-up of some excellent reading for the day, including this tremendous piece from Matt Ufford of Kissing Suzy Kolber fame on his experiences in Iraq, so I encourage you to check that out.
However, there's one other story that always comes to my mind around now, and it's one that truly deserves to be remembered. If you haven't yet, I urge you to read Gary Smith's excellent stories on former Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman. If you have read them, go back and look at them again; they're well worth it.
Tillman gave up a lucrative career in the NFL to go serve his country in the wake of the September 11 attacks and tragically lost his life doing so. What impressed me even more than his decision, though, was the outstanding person he was from all accounts. I love these pieces because Smith doesn't take the easy way out and build Tillman up as some gung-ho patriot who never questioned what he was doing. He illustrates Tillman's doubts and questions about the morality of war, his moments of weakness and his periods of strength, and he goes into the questions about what happened to cause Tillman's death and the Army's role in covering it up. In doing so, he moves beyond the typical lionizing black-and-white portrait of nationalism and heroism, painting Tillman with shades of grey that make him a more compelling character and a greater hero.
Generally, I'm not a big believer in the idea that athletes are or should be heroes or role models, but there are always exceptions. Tillman is one, and an athlete I'm proud to admire. Every day, but on today of all days, we should follow the lead of Smith's second headline and remember his name.