Season of Scandals
6. Pat Died for Our Sins
"Was his death by fratricide an accident or a homicide? After all, he had reportedly advised fellow Rangers to vote for John Kerry and, on his next leave, was looking forward to meeting Noam Chomsky." --Robert Lipsyte, Tomdispatch, January, 2007
If the sports media ever decides to get serious about its ranting, the Pat Tillman case would be perfect. The promising young pro football player with a reputation as a risk-taker and free thinker, Tillman was no Bush poster boy when he joined the Army after 9/11. He was a patriot. The spinning of his death in Afghanistan three years ago as a heroic defense of his comrades was yet another act of deadly cynicism and/or desperation by the current Administration--particularly after it was discovered that he had been killed by friendly fire.
And then it got much worse. This summer, while we were counting down Bonds and counting out Vick, the Associated Press, using documents dug up through a Freedom of Information request, reported just why the Army had buried the findings of a post-mortem on Tillman. He had been shot three times in the forehead at close range.
According to the AP on July 27, "U.S. Army medical examiners were suspicious about the close proximity of the three bullet holes in Pat Tillman's forehead and tried without success to get authorities to investigate whether the former professional football player's death amounted to a crime.... The doctors--whose names were blacked out--said the bullet holes were so close together that it appeared the Army Ranger was cut down by an M-16 fired from a mere 10 yards or so away." Oh, and by the way, "No evidence at all of enemy fire was found at the scene--no one was hit by enemy fire, nor was any government equipment struck."
How could this bombshell explode so quietly? Where was the sports media? Where was the media period? Forget about the relative importance of this story compared to drugs, dingers, dogs; just think about the chance to rumble and rant. You don't even have to be a casual viewer of CSI to deduce that Tillman could well have been murdered by another US soldier. You can imagine the detectives' hunches--a soldier who hated him or his politics, maybe one who went psycho or thought Tillman was leading them into a trap, took him down at close range. And then there could be room for more Belichickian paranoia: officers ordered Tillman killed to prevent him from coming home and telling people what he had seen and how he now felt about the war.
Nobody picked it up and ran with it. Too dangerous? Too political? Are sportswriters too lazy, too wussy, or just too smart? Landis and Donaghy and Bonds and Vick can't hurt you so long as you carp from a distance. Karl could kill you by text-message.
I'm no fool. I'm going to keep this story alive in fiction. Change names, do it as a movie, which I want to develop with Steven Soderbergh, David Cronenberg, and Peter (Friday Night Lights) Berg.
The shooting would then become a hit ordered by Karl Rove for reasons that are revealed after the Tillman character miraculously recovers from his wounds and comes home to lead us into the second American Revolution.
In a motor home called Liberty Two, he drives the NASCAR circuit telling crowds of more than 200,000 what he has learned of the government's greed and betrayal. This audience is particularly responsive because it's their siblings, children, relatives, and friends who have been doing most of the fighting--and dying. In the last scene, as Tillman heads for Washington, DC, leading a convoy of more than one million vehicles, Karl Rove shows up to offer his services.
While I wait for the green light to write up the script, I'll be keeping an ear cocked toward the NFL. Last month, a group of veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan asked Commissioner Roger Goodell to help obtain all the documents in the Tillman case.
Of course, the Commissioner has also been busy with Vick and the dogs.