Enshrinement ceremony stirs debate about Tillman and Hall of Fame

The late Pat Tillman, left, shown with his brother Kevin, has been a topic of debate at the Pro Football Hall of Fame regarding whether he should be enshrined there. (Photo courtesy Pat Tillman Foundation)

CANTON, Ohio –Pat Tillman is well known for trading in his football uniform and enlisting in the United States Army.

That enlistment eventually cost him his life.

But the legacy of the former Arizona State and Cardinals player has lived on even a decade after. A legacy that has raised the question of whether Tillman’s tragic death and decision to leave an NFL career to join the U.S. military war effort in Afghanistan merits a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

If Tillman were to ever be inducted, he would have to be chosen as a contributor candidate — an individual who contributed to the game in ways other than playing and coaching.

Kent Somers, longtime Cardinals reporter for the Arizona Republic and AZCentral Sports and member of the Hall of Fame selection committee, said in Canton Saturday that Tillman’s name has hardly ever been brought up among committee circles.

“The NFL has done so much already to honor (Pat),” Somers said. “I don’t think he would’ve wanted his sacrifice to be cheapened in any way just so his name could be in the Hall of Fame.”

That lack of discussion worsens the odds and possibility of Tillman ever being placed on the ballot. It also creates a slippery slope for the merit of the Hall of Fame and for the meaning of his sacrifice.

Peter King, one of America’s most respected football writers, has voiced an opposition at the efforts of advancing Tillman’s discussion.

In a commentary for Sports Illustrated in 2010, King said, “The Pro Football Hall of Fame is for what men do on the football field.” He later pointed out that Tillman wasn’t the only NFL player to lose his life while serving.

“In the 90-year history of the NFL, 24 young men who played in the league died serving the U.S. One example is Bob Kalsu, the Bills lineman who died in Vietnam,” he said. “If Tillman goes in, should the other 23 also be enshrined?”

It’s not to take away from the story that Tillman forged. He was drafted in the seventh round by the Cardinals in 1998, recorded 155 tackles during the 2000 season, and then turned down a contract offer from the Cardinals of $3.6 million to serve his country.

“Tillman is the shiningest example of everything that is good about young people in this country,” King said. “He gave up riches to do what he thought was right, and he died doing it,” King said.

Others throughout the years have felt differently.

After watching an ESPN Outside the Lines report on the man who may have killed Tillman in action, NBC Sports broadcaster Cris Collinsworth tweeted out his own message.

“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 wrote. “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?”

Although the decision to induct Tillman would ultimately be up to the Hall of Fame selection committee, it hasn’t kept former players and teammates of his from speaking out about his heroism and the impact he’s left on the game.

“The things that I think about are when you see a person leave the things that can personally benefit them as well as their family and then to go in and serve during a time of war, that’s what makes and epitomizes Pat Tillman,” said former teammate and Hall of Famer Aeneas Williams.

“While the Hall of Fame would be nice, I most remember him for being a person that was willing to sacrifice for the better good of others.