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FIRST-PERSON: Former NFL player’s new job: It could cost him his life


MULKEYTOWN, Ill. (BP)–For most NFL players, July marks the beginning of training camp. They’ll run drills and push their bodies to the limit in preparation for the upcoming season.

For former Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman, training started a bit earlier. He’s running drills and pushing his body to the edge. But he’s preparing for something a lot more serious. He’s preparing for something that could cost him his life.

Tillman reported to basic training July 8 at Fort Benning, Ga., to begin his career in the U.S. Army. After four years in the NFL, the 25-year-old Tillman earlier this year spurned a three-year $3.6 million offer from the Cardinals to pursue life as an elite Army Ranger.

His salary for the new gig? About $1,400 a month for the three years he’ll be in the service.

“This is very serious with Pat,” Arizona coach Dave McGinnis told the Associated Press. “It was not a snap decision he woke up and made yesterday. You’re not dealing with a guy who’s real shallow. You’re dealing with a guy whose waters run pretty deep.”

Indeed, they must. Most guys don’t walk away from lucrative contracts as professional football players to join the military and live on a mere pittance.

But Tillman is far from ordinary, and he always has been. As a student at Arizona State University, Tillman graduated in three and a half years with a 3.84 grade-point average. Oh yeah, he was the Pacific-10’s defensive player of the year his senior season too.

According to a story in USA Today, Tillman’s friends describe him as “a highly intelligent, intensely loyal and fiercely driven overachiever with a complex personality — he climbed atop mountains to meditate in college — but simple needs. He drives a Volvo station wagon, lives in a modest home in Chandler, a Phoenix suburb, and wants nothing to do with cell phones.”

He’s also very private. Tillman has yet to talk to the media about why he made this decision and has rejected all kinds of interview requests.

I don’t know what specifically motivated Tillman’s move, but it’s obvious he knows money isn’t the key to happiness. He’s pursuing something that undoubtedly has been a dream of his for quite some time, and I hope he finds the experience fulfilling.

Tillman is exactly the kind of soldier that makes me proud. I’m thankful that guys like him are out there risking their lives to preserve our freedoms. I’m grateful for his commitment and devotion to his country. And I’m glad he’s on our side.

As his agent, Frank Bauer, said in USA Today, “I said to one guy, ‘Look out, bin Laden,’ because he’s the type of guy who can get him.”

If you want a role model for your kids, look no further. You’ll have a hard time finding anyone more suited than Tillman.
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Tim Ellsworth writes a weekly column for BPSports, at www.bpsports.net.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth
    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.Read All by Tim Ellsworth ›