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WNBA’s Griner given same award Army Ranger Pat Tillman received

The United States' Brittney Griner (15) shoots over Japan's Maki Takada (8) during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Women's Basketball Final at Saitama Super Arena on Aug. 8, 2021, in Saitama, Japan. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
January 11, 2023

Brittney Griner, WNBA star who captured headlines following her arrest and sentence of 9 years in a Russian prison for possession of cannabis oil in 2022, was awarded “Arizonian of the Year,” an honor that was previously awarded to Pat Tillman, the Arizona Cardinals defensive back who left his NFL dreams to join the Army, becoming a war hero in the process.

Tragically, on April 22, 2004, Tillman was killed in the line of duty at age of 27. His death was initially reported as enemy fire, later spurning debate as it was confirmed to be an accident resulting from friendly fire. Steven Elliot, former Army Ranger, clarified the details of the incident to ESPN in April of 2014. Tillman had been with a group that was separated during a removal operation of a humvee that had broken down. While Tillman’s group advanced ahead, enemy fire was encountered by the following group.

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Tillman turned back up the course in an attempt to provide assistance to the second group. In the confusion, he was fatally wounded. News of Tillman’s death immediately captured the nation’s interest and sorrow. While he had played four tours with the NFL, achieving records and awards in recognition of his ability in the sport, it was his bravery and spirit that lead the nation to mourn his death.

Prior to his enlistment, Tillman had recently been offered a $3.6 million dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals to return for another season. Instead of accepting, Tillman joined the Army to support his country after 9-11. During a news conference regarding his departure, Tillman said, “My great-grandfather was at Pearl Harbor, and a lot of my family has…gone and fought in wars, and I really haven’t done a damn thing as far as laying myself on the line like that.”

Tillman’s patriotism, integrity and sacrifice touched hearts across the nation. He became a symbol of the best of us, a reminder that we could live heroically and in service to the greater good. He was posthumously awarded both a Purple Heart and Silver Star Metal for his sacrifice in service. The Arizona Cardinals retired his #40 jersey, and he was inducted into the College Hall of Fame in 2010. He was named Arizonian of the Year in 2004.

Previous awardees, other than Tillman, of Arizonian of the Year have historically reflected devotion to duty, barrier-breaking or sacrifice in service to others, making Griner’s designation a controversial one.

According to AZCentral, “Britney Griner captured the public eye more intensely than anyone else in 2022, an impact that makes her our Arizonian of the Year. It’s not out of any personal Valor or past achievement that we name Brittney Griner ‘Arizonian of the Year’ but as a solitary person who got caught in the tectonic shifts of history and became our state’s most important newspaper in 2022.”