Last night after the Thursday night NFL football game I watched a powerful documentary on former NFL player Pat Tillman.
It will be broadcast tonight on the NFL Network at 9 PM EST/6 PM PST.
It is a fantastic documentary that tells the story behind one of the NFL’s most enigmatic players.
Following 911 Pat walked away from a lucrative multi-million dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals in 2002 to enlist in the Army and become a Ranger.
Pat was subsequently killed in 2004 in a friendly-fire incident in Afghanistan. Controversy swirled around his death because of a military cover-up to hide the fact it was friendly-fire.
I’m very proud and pleased that some photographs that I made, including the one with this email, are included in the documentary.
The photographs were originally made in 1997 on my very first assignment for Sports Illustrated (the pinnacle, at the time, of magazine sports journalism) and Pat gave me this photograph.
Briefly, the story was about how Pat was the Pac 10 Defensive Player of the Year despite being undersized and how well he was doing in his academics. Pat graduated in 3 1/2 years with a GPA of over 3.85 in marketing. The concept was to capture, in one photograph, that aspect of student/athlete.
I proposed an idea to Pat and he shot it down, though very nicely and politely.
“Mr. Gero, I don’t mean to be difficult. But that doesn’t sound like me."
That’s okay Pat, is there something that you do that incorporates that notion of student/athlete?
“Well, sometimes I climb up into the light towers and I just think."
I nearly dropped my cel phone as I envisioned the possible photograph.
The next day at the portrait session Pat climbed into the light tower on top of the press box wearing Rainbow flip flops.
As I was making the photograph I had the distinct sense that this could be a double truck, or a full two-page spread. The vision I had in my head from the day before when he suggested it had now become a reality.
And in the next issue it did run as a full bleed, two page double truck. That was all Pat.
The documentary is wonderful because it shows how he affected people (even when he was a young boy) in such a memorable and heartfelt way.
He defied the odds (he was too small to play in college, the pros), was loyal to the folks who took a chance on him (he turned down a $6 million paycheck from the St. Louis Rams and instead took a salary of the league minimum to stay with the Cardinals because they took a chance on him when they drafted him) — a real throwback.
And became, finally, a true American hero.
I hope you will watch this documentary about Pat if you knew of him, or even if you might never have heard of him. I think you will be impressed with the man he was and the huge sacrifice he made for our country.
I will always be grateful to him for that and also for the kindness he extended to me when he let me photograph him in his own private space and helped me look like a hero to my editors on my first start out of the blocks.
Thank you somehow seems insufficient.