Movies: The Tillman Story

Pat and Kevin Tillman (Photo / public domain)

This article first appeared in September, 2010 at

Although the Tillman Story is by no means a sports movie, it is about a sports figure – the late Pat Tillman, a standout safety for the Arizona Cardinals who was killed in Afghanistan in 2004.

The 2010 documentary can be distilled into two parts: one illuminating the life of Tillman and offering some insight into his motivation to leave behind a lucrative NFL career to serve in the military, and a second shedding valuable insight into the true circumstances surrounding his death.

The two are inextricably linked as the convictions of the living Pat Tillman stood in stark contrast to the manner in which his killing was ‘spun.’ Tillman’s strength of character seemed to posthumously motivate the family he left behind to depict his death as it was: tragic, heroic, but accidental, and not of the glorious variety befitting a recruiting poster. The documentary focuses on the tireless efforts of Pat’s mother, Mary “Dannie” Tillman, to uncover the true story behind his death. Tillman’s father, Pat Sr., also tirelessly waded through the abundance of redacted documents provided to the family to essentially obfuscate the facts of the case.

Tightly written and directed, the movie stands solidly on the legs of both of its primary components, and offers at its core both an inspiring story of one man’s patriotism, and a cautionary tale of the dangers of myth-making to advance an agenda.