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Tillman was more than a hero

Former NFL star who gave up fame and fortune to fight for his country dies in combat
Former Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman, photographed in Puyallup, Washington in this June 2003 file photograph was killed in Afghanistan on April 22 U.S. officials said April 23, 2004. Tillman, 27, was serving with the U.S. Army Rangers.Ho / Reuters file

Army Ranger and former NFL star Pat Tillman died while searching for al Qaeda terrorists in the mountains on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.

What do you call a 27-year-old who gives up a $3.6 million NFL contract to make $18,000 a year as an Army Ranger, risking his life and serving his country? A football star so affected by September 11 that he chose to join his brother in combat overseas because he wanted to “pay back the country for the comfortable life he had led,” a man who shunned any media coverage of his enlistment because he just wanted to be treated like everyone else.

The term hero I don’t think does him justice. Good Samaritans are often described as heroes. A person who helps another out of harm’s way, taking a stranger to the hospital or helping pull someone off of subway tracks. Those are wonderful acts, but they don’t involve the same level of premeditated selflessness that Pat Tillman showed by giving up one of the most sought after careers to risk his life for his country. It’s been a long time since a star athlete at the peak of his career chose to give up so much to head into combat for this nation. It’s difficult to think of the word that describes that kind of commitment.

That doesn’t make him any more courageous than our other patriotic soldiers, but there’s something particularly striking about his willingness to give up the good life, particularly in our society that sometimes seems to value celebrity in sports over everything else. I guess for now, the term American hero will just have to do. I’ll bet Pat Tillman would have said that’s more than enough.

Dan Abrams is the host of 'The Abrams Report.' on MSNBC.