A Sports Memorial: Players Who Have Served and Died on the Battlefield

A Sports Memorial: Players Who Have Served and Died on the Battlefield
Many of us look to sports stars as heroes. Often, because of their athletic prowess, we hold them up as examples of the kinds of greatness human beings can achieve. However, for many players heroism truly starts when they make the move from sports field to battlefield.

The number of players who have served in wars is unknown and uncountable, but today we’d like to highlight a few who not only gave their time and service to our country but also gave their lives.

The greatest number of professional athletes serving in the armed forces came during World War II. Many, many American baseball players and European soccer players were drafted. Many of them survived the war but some did not. They left their lives of fame and comfort and gave the ultimate sacrifice for the good of their countries.

Bob Kalsu Sports Illustrated Cover

Credit: Sports Illustrated

Football player Bob Kalsu is one of those men. Kalsu served in the Army during the Vietnam War.  Prior to his wartime service he was the NFL Rookie of the Year (1968) playing for the Buffalo Bills.  He entered the war to fulfill his ROTC obligations and was later killed action. He was posthumously added to the Bills Hall of Fame in 2000.

The most high profile and recent wartime death of a professional player was football player Pat Tillman. A standout player during his college career at Arizona State University, Pat Tillman was drafted to the NFL in 1998 and started playing for the Arizona Cardinals. By all accounts he was poised for a long and successful football career.

Pat Tillman Sports Illustrated Cover

Credit: Sports Illustrated

However, after the September 11th attacks, Tillman chose to enlist. He said,  “Sports embodied many of the qualities I deem meaningful. However, these last few years, and especially after recent events, I’ve come to appreciate just how shallow and insignificant my role is . . . It’s no longer important.” He turned down a $3.6 million contract with the Cardinals and was subsequently sent to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Tillman was killed on April 22, 2004 in Afghanistan. While his enlistment was a high profile event, the circumstances of death would overshadow that. His memorial service was televised and all of America seemed to mourn his loss. It was later discovered that the cause of his death was friendly fire and he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star.

As Arthur Ashe said, “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” Today we salute all soldiers who sacrifice so much for our country’s freedom and call them all heroes.

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