The widow of Pat Tillman, the former NFL star and Army Ranger who was killed in Afghanistan in 2004, has demanded that her husband’s military service not be “politicized in a way that divides us.”
“We are too great of a country for that,” Marie Tillman said in comments released to CNN on Monday. “As a football player and soldier, Pat inspired countless Americans to unify. It is my hope that his memory should always remind people that we must come together.”
Tillman delivered her comments amid debate over NFL athletes kneeling during the national anthem to protest systemic racism and social injustice. President Donald Trump on Sunday retweeted another Twitter user’s post that referenced Pat Tillman and called for people to “stand for our anthem” and “boycott [the] NFL” in response to the protests.
Tillman played for the Arizona Cardinals from 1998 to 2001. Despite being offered a multimillion dollar contract for the following season, he chose instead to enlist as an Army ranger after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004. The Department of Defense initially misreported that Tillman was killed by enemy fire.
Last year, when former 49er Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the national anthem, Tillman’s story circulated among right-wing bloggers who claimed that refusing to stand for the national anthem disrespected what Tillman had fought and died for.
Read: How Trump’s Divisive Comments United the NFL
While Marie Tillman did not explicitly support those players who choose to kneel, Tillman did highlight the importance of freedom of speech.
“The very action of self expression and the freedom to speak from one’s heart—no matter those views—is what Pat and so many other Americans have given their lives for. Even if they don’t always agree with those views.”
Read: These NFL Owners Supported Donald Trump. But Now They’re Backing Their Players
“It is my sincere hope that our leaders both understand and learn from the lessons of Pat’s life and death, and also those of so many other brave Americans,” she concluded.