Many other details about the fatal firefight that found their way into the public domain were similarly perplexing. Perhaps the greatest mystery, however, surrounded not the circumstances of Tillman's death but the essential facts of his life. Before he enlisted, Tillman was familiar to sports aficionados as an undersized, overachieving football player whose virtuosity in the defensive backfield was spellbinding. But during the four years he spent in the NFL, Tillman played for the Arizona Cardinals—a mediocre small- market team that was seldom in the limelight—so his name wasn't widely recognized beyond the realm of hard- core football fans.
Although it wasn't Tillman's intention, when he left the Cardinals to join the Army he was transformed overnight into an icon of post-9/11 patriotism. Seizing the opportunity to capitalize on his celebrity, the Bush administration endeavored to use his name and image to promote what it had christened the Global War on Terror. Tillman abhorred this role. As soon as he decided to enlist, he stopped talking to the press altogether, although his silence did nothing to squelch America's fascination with the football star who traded the bright lights and riches of the NFL for boot camp and a bad haircut. Following his death on the battlefield, the public's interest in Tillman shot through the roof. The posthumous media frenzy shed little light on who he really was, however. The intricate mosaic of personal history that defined his existence was obscured by the blizzard of hype.
Unencumbered by biographical insight, people felt emboldened to invent all manner of personae for Tillman after his passing. Most of these renderings were based on little more than rumor and fantasy. The right- wing harridan Ann Coulter claimed him as an exemplar of Republican political values. The left- wing editorial cartoonist Ted Rall denigrated him in a four- panel comic strip as an "idiot" who joined the Army to "kill Arabs."
Neither Coulter nor Rall had any idea what motivated Pat Tillman. Beyond his family and a small circle of close friends, few people did.
Copyright 2009 Jonathan R. Krakauer Reprinted with permission from Doubleday