IT WAS a Tuesday,the beginning of Sports Illustrated's "weekend" after the Monday-nightclose of a college football cover. But instead of going their separate ways asusual, many of SI's writers and editors were gathering in Bethlehem, Pa., foran annual golf tournament organized by senior writer Jack McCallum. Three dozenof them were either in Bethlehem or en route when they learned of the attack onthe Twin Towers. Several turned around and went home, but many gathered infront of a too-small TV set in McCallum's living room and tried, like everybodyelse, to figure it all out.
They were stillthere in the morning, and by the time they split up, every major sport hadannounced it was canceling its slate of games. SI's next issue was the weekthat sports stood still, with contributions from McCallum and the others whohad stood together in front of that small TV. Everything had changed, andthough no one spoke of it, they were glad they had been together that day.
The games resumed,and the nation came together around sports. Stadiums became places to findstrength; what had been diversion now felt like ritual. It was tribal. We weregoing to war, and beneath the rhetoric we knew our soldiers were athletes. Itwas always that way--the person you played next to in high school was suddenlyin harm's way. And one way to honor them all was to go to a game. It was a wayfor us to tell each other who we were, and to let whoever might be watchingknow that we weren't afraid. This was very much with us when Pat Tillman quitthe NFL and joined the Army to become a Ranger. When he wouldn't talk about it,that somehow clarified what he was doing: his duty. Twenty-three months laterhe died in Afghanistan.
Senior writer GarySmith says that when he wrote the story of Tillman's death (SI, May 3, 2004),he felt like he was writing from inside a "fog of war." At deadline,three versions of how Tillman died were coming at him at the same time. TheArmy's version had him charging from his vehicle toward Taliban fighters. ATaliban source claimed that a villager had been used to lure Tillman's platooninto an ambush. An Afghan coalition commander said Tillman died when hisvehicle drove over a land mine. Smith's story this week (page 86) was anopportunity, rare in this business, to go back and, as Smith put it, "blowaway that fog ... or at least reduce it to a finer mist."
That friendly firekilled Pat Tillman is hard to take and all the more reason not to write abouthis death in isolation. As of Sept. 1 at least 272 members of the U.S. militaryhave died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan since late 2001. Of those,the military reports that 171 were combat deaths. In Iraq at least 2,643members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the war in March2003--at least 2,102 in combat. They are all Pat Tillman's brothers andsisters, which is important to keep in mind when you read Smith's piece--andalso when you notice that there are two other stories in this issue aboutbrothers.
The ones about theMannings (page 72) and the Weavers (page 82) are very different kinds ofstories, but once you know Pat Tillman's story, it is good to see brotherseverywhere.