From the Editor’s Playbook

Confusing exploitation and respect


Members of our military are propped up as mascots all the time. “Respect the troops” is a slogan shouted without much purpose other than to end all arguments.

But when those same military members speak out, do you really listen?

I see Pat Tillman’s name has been brought up yet again. You’d think Tillman played on the offensive line the way his name is used to shield those who are exploiting his name for their own political motives.

It’s been 14 years since his death. And yet Tillman has been propped up yet again, this time to attack a Nike ad.

Recently, Nike launched a campaign using Colin Kaepernick as its face. The ad reads, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” with his face in black and white. Critics shouted back “he hasn’t sacrificed anything!”

To be clear, Nike made a business move. Their target audience loves Kaepernick. I’m a bit uneasy when social activism is exploited for the all-mighty dollar. But alas, that’s capitalism. It’s happened before. Go look up Martin Luther King Jr. and Coca-Cola.

After the campaign was announced, social media went nuts. If you haven’t seen the memes, congressmen such as Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) are pushing the same pictures out to social media with the message that Tillman was the one that truly sacrificed, instead of Colin Kaepernick. Apparently it’s not truly a sacrifice unless you are killed by friendly fire and the government tries to cover it up and turn you into the poster boy for, well, sacrifice and service to one’s country.

Alex Horton of the Washington Post spoke with Jon Krakauer, the author of Where Men Win Glory, a biography of Tillman. He had some pretty interesting words about the man killed by friendly fire.

"Pat would have found Kaepernick an extremely admirable person for what he believed in,” Krakauer told The Washington Post. “I have no doubt if he was in the NFL today, he would be the first to kneel. So there is irony about what is going on.”

It’s been reported that Tillman told a fellow soldier he did not want to be used as a political tool if he dies during the war. Tillman’s widow, Marie, has also asked people not to use her husband’s service as a prop. Last year when President Donald Trump retweeted a pro-Trump account that used Tillman’s name and face, Marie released a statement against the act.

“Pat's service, along with that of every man and woman's service, should never be politicized in a way that divides us,” she wrote. “We are too great of a country for that.”

Yet here we are, now 14 years after his death, and his image is still used for political gain.

Kaepernick’s critics claim he was disrespecting the troops during his kneeling. But how is exploiting Tillman’s death against not only his wishes but against his widow’s wishes showing respect?

It isn’t.

Bumper-sticker support for the military is one thing. I’ve been around that long enough as a military dependent to where I’m numb to it. But outright exploitation? That’s not respecting the troops. Quite the opposite, actually.