American Portraits

Pat Tillman and Self-Sacrifice: A Different Direction

In this lesson, students will review the self-sacrifice that Pat Tillman demonstrated in two ways. First, he demonstrated strength of character in loyalty to the Arizona Cardinals, even when the St. Louis Rams offered him a much larger salary than the Cardinals paid him. Second, Tillman rejected a lucrative contract with the Cardinals in order to join the U.S. Army after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Founding Principles

Civic Virtue image

Civic Virtue

A set of actions and habits necessary for the safe, effective, and mutually beneficial participation in a society.

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Narrative

In the spring of 2001, Pat Tillman was enjoying life and a string of great successes. Tillman was the starting strong safety for the National Football League’s Arizona Cardinals and was winning great accolades for his hard-hitting style of play. He may not have been a household name or the NFL’s biggest superstar, but he had been named the best strong safety of 2000 by a Sports Illustrated ranking….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

Why is self-sacrifice an essential virtue?

Virtue Defined

Self-sacrifice is purposeful action exchanging personal loss for the good of others.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will review the self-sacrifice that Pat Tillman demonstrated in two ways. First, he demonstrated strength of character in loyalty to the Arizona Cardinals, even when the St. Louis Rams offered him a much larger salary than the Cardinals paid him. Second, Tillman rejected a lucrative contract with the Cardinals in order to join the U.S. Army after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Objectives

  • Students will analyze Pat Tillman’s character as a gifted athlete and patriotic American.
  • Students will examine Tillman’s demonstrations of self-sacrifice.
  • Students will understand why self-sacrifice is an essential virtue in their own lives.
  • Students will demonstrate self-sacrifice when faced with the choice of pursuing their own goals or pursuing nobler goals.

Background

Pat Tillman was born in 1976 and raised in an affluent suburb of San Jose, California. He excelled on the football field, helping to lead his team to a league championship during his senior year of high school. In addition to being a star football player, he also had a reputation for sticking up for classmates who were being bullied. Tillman earned a scholarship to play for Arizona State University; despite his smaller size for a college football player, he worked hard to gain the attention of professional football teams. Tillman was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in 1998.

On September 11, 2001, the terrorist group al Qaeda stunned the United States with a coordinated attack, crashing airplanes into the World Trade Center towers in New York City and into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Another element of their plan to hit Washington D.C. was thwarted when brave passengers sacrificed themselves by crashing their plane into a Pennsylvania field.

Within weeks, President George W. Bush and Congress responded by attacking Afghanistan, which had sheltered al Qaeda training camps and leaders. In March 2003, Congress authorized the Bush administration to take the war on terror to Iraq because of the belief that the Middle Eastern nation possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) that might be sold to terrorists and threaten the lives of Americans.

Vocabulary

  • Affluent
  • Al Qaeda
  • Accolades
  • Afghanistan
  • Iraq
  • Vindicate
  • Incredulous
  • Gridiron
  • Tumultuous
  • Grandstanding
  • Baghdad
  • Humvee
  • Exemplar
  • Allure

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

Visit Their Website

Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • Self-sacrifice is related to the classical virtue of temperance and could refer to moderating our own excesses as well as controlling desires in the interest of something better or nobler. In what ways did Pat Tillman demonstrate self-sacrifice even before he enlisted in the Army?
  • Tillman said in an interview, “My great-grandfather was at Pearl Harbor. And a lot of my family has . . . gone and fought in wars.  And I really haven’t done a . . . thing as far as laying myself on the line like that.  So I have a great deal of respect for those who have.” What did he understand his identity to be in 2001 and how did he compare that to the identity of those who have served in the military?
  • What did Pat Tillman understand his purpose to be, and how did it change in the period from 1998 to 2004?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

Give Feedback

Send us your comments or questions using the form below.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Close