Los Angeles (AFP) – The widow of former NFL player and slain soldier Pat Tillman urged Tuesday that his memory not be politicized after he was invoked by President Donald Trump in the feud over on-field protests.
In a statement to CNN, Marie Tillman said her husband would have sought to unify the United States rather than foster division.
“As a football player and soldier, Pat inspired countless Americans to unify,” Marie Tillman said.
“It is my hope that his memory should always remind people that we must come together. Pat’s service, along with that of every man and woman’s service, should never be politicized in a way that divides us. We are too great of a country for that.
“Those that serve fight for the American ideals of freedom, justice and democracy. They and their families know the cost of that fight. I know the very personal costs in a way I feel acutely every day.”
Pat Tillman, a safety with the Arizona Cardinals, walked away from a multi-million dollar contract to join the US Army soon after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
He was killed by “friendly fire” in Afghanistan in 2004 at the age of 27.
Tillman’s image has been repeatedly used by critics of NFL players who have protested during renditions of the national anthem to draw attention to racial injustice.
Trump, who has led the criticism, on Monday retweeted a Twitter post that showed an image of Tillman in his army uniform with the hashtag “StandForOurAnthem” and “BoycottNFL”.
However, Marie Tillman suggested her late husband would not have opposed the right of protesters to speak out.
“The very action of self-expression and the freedom to speak from one’s heart — no matter those views — is what Pat and so many other Americans have given their lives for,” Marie Tillman said.
“Even if they didn’t always agree with those views. It is my sincere hope that our leaders both understand and learn from the lessons of Pat’s life and death, and also those of so many other brave Americans.”
Marie Tillman has been critical of Trump in the past, and wrote in June that her late husband was often ready to question his country.
“Pat’s loyalty to American ideals did not mean that he was unquestioning of his country, and his willingness to challenge the status quo makes me wonder what he’d say about it and its leaders today,” she wrote in The Atlantic.
Trump triggered outrage amongst NFL players, team owners and league officials on Friday after condemning those who protested during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner as “sons of bitches” who should be fired.
On Sunday, more than 150 players demonstrated by kneeling during the anthem while others linked arms in solidarity.