Tillman Story Brings Strong Reaction

by Randy Shaw on April 30, 2004

When I wrote this week that the NFL and sports world were using Pat Tillman’s death for pro-war propaganda, I never imagined the outburst the piece would receive from the political right. The many readers who appreciated my analysis should know that while America’s support for the Iraq war is dropping, the true believers remain unbowed.

I got feedback on the story from around the country and even overseas. Much of the response was extremely favorable, as many shared my anger about the use of Tillman’s death for propagandistic purposes. Others mistakenly thought I was critizing Tillman or was unconcerned about the impact of his death on his friends and family, neither of which is the case.

But right-wingers either spend time trolling around progressive sites or the article was circulated on conservative lists, because many wrote in outrage against my criticizing the war.

A sampling: “Too bad you weren’t in the World Trade Center on 9/11,” “We’ve lost many fine people so stupid people like you can make stupid comments,” and “Using Tillman’s picture on your website do anything other than honor the courageous man borders on treason.”

Several suggested that I go “over there to fight, so that my family could see a coffin with my dead body in it.” This would put an end to “my ignorant stories popping up on a computer screen.” One writer argued that professional sports will always remain conservative because “the audience wouldn’t tolerate a bunch of nancy-boys playing daffodil tag on Monday nights. Get a grip, pantywaist.”

Who were those writing? Many were retired military. A 20-year veteran who wrote that I was “steeped in pinko liberal vomit” identified herself as a “Proud conservative, Roman Catholic, Pro-Lifer, Campaigned with President Bush, Operation Iraqi Freedom Supporter, Mom, Hot Dogs and Apple Pie―Love this country or leave it!!!”

Letters like the above show that the Iraq war is not about freedom, its about US dominance and control. Dissent is not tolerated, and either agree with us or leave.
The pro-war stance has become so fragile that any criticism must be attacked, and every means―including Pat Tillman’s unfortunate death―must be used to bolster the cause.

The President of the University of Massachusetts issued a statement today criticizing a story about Tillman written in The Daily Collegian. UMass president Jack Wilson described writer Rene Gonzalez’s article as “disgusting, arrogant and intellectually immature” and urged Gonzalez to apologize to Tillman’s family.

Gonzalez had called Tillman a “G.I Joe guy who got what was coming to him,” and said “this was not heroism. It was prophetic idiocy.” While I disagree with Gonzalez’s remarks, it is significant that the President of a statewide university system would take the time to publicly attack an article in a student newspaper.

The UMass President has sent a troubling message to aspiring young journalists about the limits to America’s freedom of press. Given rising tuition costs and the need for grad students to obtain paying teaching positions, many students will surely think twice before writing articles that could offend university administrators.

Media coverage of Pat Tillman’s heroism has continued, as the criticism of John Kerry’s military record by Dick Cheney and others has become even more vitrolic. The angry conservatives who wrote to me cannot have it both ways.

Randy Shaw is the author of The Activist’s Handbook and Editor of Beyond Chron, www.beyondchron.org. He can be reached at rshaw@beyondchron.org

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