The 10th Anniversary of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington neatly coincided with the first Sunday of the 2011 NFL schedule, and days before the combined forces of ESPN, the NFL Network, CBS and Fox marked this afternoon’s games with repeated references to that tragic morning, The Edge Of Sports’ Dave Zirin argued the league has “has treated our era of endless war as an odious exercise in corporate branding.”
In all the scurrying to make sure “9/11 NFL Sunday” is a day to remember, one name is strikingly absent from the press release trumpeting the day’s events: Pat Tillman (above, middle). After 9/11, Tillman took the extraordinary step of leaving the NFL to join the Army Rangers. His experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan pushed him to question the official rational for the Global War on Terror. He read anti-war authors. He told friends that he felt the war in Iraq was “f-in illegal.” Then he died at the hands of his fellow Rangers in an instance of what was deemed “friendly fire.” The Pentagon and the Bush administration hid this reality from Pat Tillman’s family. The NFL, for their part, inaugurated a USO center at Bagram Airfield in Pat Tillman’s name without hinting at the complicated realities of either Tillman’s service or his betrayal at the hands of those he trusted. The NFL’s failure to highlight Tillman in this Sunday’s 9/11 tributes is in some ways a relief but it also reads like an act of cowardice. His story is a polarizing one that Roger Goodell wants to avoid on this day of “unity.”
Ten years from 9/11, unity is hardly the watchword of the moment. I spoke with Rory Fanning, the former U.S. Army Ranger, turned anti-war activist, who served with Pat and walked across the country in his memory. I asked Rory what he would like to see the NFL do to commemorate the decade anniversary since that fateful day. He said, “I would ask the NFL for an hour of silence for the 100’s of thousands killed after 9/11 in recognition of the criminally disproportionate response to that day.” If Roger Goodell must do something that sounds pretty dead-on. It certainly feels more right than the queasy mix of war, sport, and choreographed remembrance that Goodell has planned.
(ADDENDUM : Major League Baseball, doing everything in their power to make the NFL look good by comparison on this fateful day).
(ADDENDUM DOS : Bud Selig denies threatening Mets players over their choice of headwear, plus suggestions Mets ownership blamed the whole thing on MLB rather than risk infuriating the Commissioner…which they’ve done, anyway).