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Super Bowl Called Out For Misrepresenting How NFLer-Turned-Soldier Pat Tillman Actually Died

The former NFL star was killed in Afghanistan in 2004 after joining the military following 9/11—but the NFL left out key details surrounding how he died.

Pat Tillman in his NFL days; Pat Tillman's official military photo
Gene Lower/Getty Images; U.S. Department of Defense

Social media users called out the National Football League (NFL) for misrepresenting the circumstances behind former football player-turned-soldier Pat Tillman's death after Super Bowl LVII opened with an Army propaganda segment praising Tillman for his self-sacrifice by dying “in the line of duty" in Afghanistan in 2004.

The supposed tribute to Tillman—who was killed in Afghanistan in 2004 after joining the military following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001—was also soured by the fact four Pat Tillman Foundation scholars were chosen to be the coin-toss captains to determine which team would start with the ball.

At no point did the video mention the United States Army initially reported Tillman was killed by enemy fire when in fact Tillman was shot three times in the head from less than 10 yards away by friendly fire.

The Pentagon didn't notify Tillman's family he'd been killed by fire from his own side until late May 2004, weeks after his memorial service.

Nor did the video mention Tillman was killed not long after calling the War in Iraq "so f**king illegal" while in conversation with a friend or that he planned to meet with anti–Vietnam War activist Noam Chomsky but died before he could.

Many who watched the Super Bowl with no prior knowledge of Tillman were actively misled by the segment, which of course did not note that members of Tillman's unit burned his body armor and uniform in an apparent attempt to hide the fact that he was killed by friendly fire and destroyed his journal, which included his thoughts on the war in Afghanistan.

The extensive coverup that followed Tillman's death included the military's order to Tillman's comrades to lie to his family at the funeral. Tillman's family has been sharply critical of the Army, which they charge lied and interfered with the investigation into Tillman's death so as not to hurt their image and recruitment efforts.

Tillman's brother, Kevin, testified before Congress in 2007 that the "deception surrounding this case was an insult to the family, but more importantly, its primary purpose was to deceive a whole nation" and that the family had "been used as props in a Pentagon public relations exercise.”

Many suggested the segment is proof the military is continuing to lie about Tillman's death to generate support for unjust wars.

Tillman's story is chronicled in Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, by writer Jon Krakauer. Tillman's mother, Mary Tillman, also wrote a book about her son, Boots on the Ground by Dusk. A documentary, The Tillman Story, was released to critical acclaim in 2010.

The NFL and U.S. military's propaganda appears to have worked on the right-wing, including QAnon adherent and failed Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who called Tillman "one of the greatest Arizonans to ever live" in a tone-deaf tweet.