Fighting To Honor Tillman

Jake Plummer looks for alternative methods to honor former teammate Pat Tillman, despite objections from the National Football League.

The football field has long been referred to as a battleground, the players compared to warriors. Pat Tillman must have taken the analogies literally. Tillman, a former safety in the Arizona Cardinals organization, left the team and millions of dollars prior to the start of the 2002 season to join the Army Rangers. While on a mission in an area of Afghanistan where numerous U.S. troops have been killed in battles with suspected al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, Tillman was killed in combat last April.

As the football season gets into full swing, Tillman has posthumously become the center of another battle. The war being waged is not on terrorism, and does not involve enemy armies, but is instead has pitted the NFL against several ex-teammates of Tillman's. The players are finding themselves at odds with the National Football League over regulation that prohibits players from using any visible part of their uniform for personal tributes. According to league policy, only current Arizona Cardinals are allowed to wear stickers commemorating Pat Tillman.

Beginning his second season as a Denver Bronco, Jake Plummer, a former teammate of Tillman's with the Cardinals, announced before the beginning of the season that he would celebrate his friend's legacy by wearing a #40 decal on his helmet for the entire season and possibly the rest of his playing career.

Plummer began wearing the sticker during training camp, and last Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the first regular season game in which the veteran quarterback's helmet was not adorned with the decal. Having already received several fines for failing to adhere to league uniform standards, and faced with the possibility of $30, 000 more in fines for continuing to wear the sticker on his helmet, Plummer eventually backed down and conceded to the demands of the NFL.

In lieu of paying the NFL fines, Plummer has said that he will donate the matching amount to the Pat Tillman Foundation (www.pattillmanfoundation.net). He has also said that he will find an alternate method to honor Tillman that is acceptable by the league. Another former Tillman teammate, Derek Smith, now with the 49ers, has chosen to pay homage to Tillman's legacy by writing "40" on a piece of tape, and putting it on the inside of his facemask.

The NFL is a league that prides itself on teamwork and leadership, two traits Tillman had mastered. On a league website, a mission statement boasts that a goal of the NFL is to foster personal growth and social interaction. While I agree that the league needs to enforce rules regarding uniforms, I feel that not letting Plummer pledge his loyalty to Tillman was a slap in the face to both Plummer and the Tillman family. Kudos to Jake for going against the league and honoring his friend, even if it was only for a few weeks. As Knute Rockne once said, "One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than fifty preaching it."

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