Remembering Former NFL Safety Pat Tillman on the Anniversary of His Death

16 years ago, Pat Tillman was killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan.
16 years ago, Pat Tillman was killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan. / Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

When it comes to sports, players who won championships or made tremendous plays in key moments are regarded as heroes. However, former NFL safety Pat Tillman was the pure embodiment of a far more profound kind of hero, as he put his life on the line to serve in the United States Army following the Sept. 11th attacks.

On this day 16 years ago, the football star turned Army Ranger was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan at the young age of 27.

Tillman was an undersized linebacker at Arizona State, but made up for it in toughness and athleticism. After a senior season in which he won Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, Tillman was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the seventh round of the 1998 NFL Draft, who moved him to the safety position. Tillman proved to be an absolute steal for the Cardinals, as he recorded an astounding 374 tackles in his four seasons.

After the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Tillman turned down a three-year, $3.6 million contract offer from the Cardinals in order to enlist in the Army in 2002. He didn't care about the money -- he wanted to serve his country.

Tillman fought in Iraq before being deployed to Afghanistan as a member of the US Army's 75th Ranger Regiment. After nearly three years of service, he was tragically killed by friendly fire in 2004. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star, and had his No. 40 jersey retired by the Cardinals and his No. 42 retired at Arizona State.

When talking about athletes, be sure to use the term "hero" carefully. Only a small, small number of them gave the ultimate sacrifice like Pat Tillman did 16 years ago.