A petition on Change.org to retire the number 40 jersey across the entire National Football League in honor of the late Pat Tillman — a pro football player who gave up his sports career to join the Army — has garnered nearly 60,000 signatures.
Tillman chose to join the Army and become an elite Army Ranger after the Al Qaeda terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Tillman was killed in a friendly fire incident while serving in combat in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. The petition’s stated goal is “to have the NFL retire Pat Tillman’s jersey No. 40 league wide in honor of the 20th anniversary of 09-11-2001 and Pat Tillman’s ultimate sacrifice he made as a result of this day.”
Prior to joining the Army, Tillman played football for Arizona State University. Tillman was an All-American linebacker for ASU and was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the seventh round of the 1998 NFL Draft.
According to the Pat Tillman Foundation, after the 9/11 attacks, Tillman said, “At times like this you stop and think about just how good we have it, what kind of system we live in, and the freedoms we are allowed. A lot of my family has gone and fought in wars and I really haven’t done a damn thing.”
Tillman joined the Army and deployed once to Iraq in 2003 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and then deployed again in 2004, this time to Afghanistan. During a vehicle-mounted patrol in Afghanistan’s Khost Province, Tillman’s unit was ambushed. During the fighting, Tillman dismounted from his vehicle to take up an advantageous position on a hillside to provide covering fire for his unit. It was during this action that Tillman was fatally fired upon by another soldier in his unit. He was 27 years old at the time.
The Change.org petition states, “‘On the evening of April 22, 2004, Pat’s unit was ambushed as it traveled through the rugged, canyon terrain of eastern Afghanistan. His heroic efforts to provide cover for fellow soldiers as they escaped from the canyon led to his untimely and tragic death via fratricide.”
The cause of Tillman’s death became the subject of controversy, with initial reports suggesting he was killed by enemy combatants before later investigations confirmed he was the victim of a friendly fire incident.
The soldier who mistakenly pulled the trigger on Tillman spoke out in 2014, saying he was haunted by his actions.
Steven Elliot, a former Army Ranger, told NPR at the time that he suffered from alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder and his marriage fell apart – all from the “unresolved emptiness and hurt” resulting from unknowingly firing on a fellow soldier.
The petition states “They say ‘a man is not dead while his name is still spoken.’ It is my hope that for the rest of time, anytime an unknown person enters an NFL stadium, they will see TILLMAN 40 hanging from the rafters and his story will have to be told and his name will continue to be spoken.”
The petition first started on May 17 and within a week it gathered more than 14,400 signatures out of its initial 15,000-signature goal. Since surpassing that initial goal, petition organizer Sean Wilson has updated the goal from 15,000 signatures to 75,000 signatures. At 75,000 signatures, the petition would become one of the top-signed pledges across the entire Change.org platform.
AZ Family reported the NFL has never retired a jersey number league-wide. It remains to be seen how the NFL will respond to this petition.
Following his death, the Pat Tillman Foundation was established in his honor. The foundation supports scholarships for active military service members, veterans, and their spouses.