Almost four months after halting the shipment of Arizona Cardinals jerseys with the name "Tillman" on the back, the NFL is preparing to lift the restrictions placed on its manufacturer, and proceeds of the jerseys shipped will now go to the Pat Tillman Foundation, the organization whose mission it is to carry on the legacy of its namesake.
Tillman, who left the Cardinals to join the Army in May 2002, was killed while fighting in Afghanistan in April, making him the first NFL player to die during combat since the Vietnam War.
The Tillman jersey arrangement is one of many things the league and its teams have decided to do in order to memorialize the former Cardinals star.
The original action was meant to cut down on profiteers who were ordering blank Cardinals jerseys and getting them personalized with Tillman's name and No. 40 on the back before selling them at a premium in online auctions. In the days after Tillman's death, hundreds of unauthorized pieces of memorabilia filled eBay.
"Pat was a special person, and the league and the foundation wanted to respond to the requests of many fans that we heard from that wanted to remember Pat in some special way," said Joe Browne, the NFL's executive vice president of communications.
"Since we learned of Pat's death, we've obviously seen people express their wishes for a lapel pin or a jersey to show support for Pat and the way he lived his life," said Mike Bidwill, vice president and general counsel of the Cardinals.
The jerseys will be sold at Sun Devil Stadium, on the team's and league's Web sites, and at U.S. military bases around the world. A specially designed hologram will be affixed to the jerseys to verify their authenticity.
"It's not like we are producing bobbleheads and other items," said Alex Garwood, Tillman's brother-in-law and executive director of the Pat Tillman Foundation. "We heard from so many people who wanted to buy his jersey, and now they can buy it with the profits going to his foundation."
The Cardinals retired Tillman's No. 40 jersey April 24, the day after he was killed. The team also has announced that it will name the area surrounding the perimeter of the Cardinals' new stadium, scheduled to open in 2006, "Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza."
Arizona players will honor Tillman by wearing No. 40 decals on their helmets throughout the season. During games the week of the Cardinals' home opener -- Sept. 19 against the Patriots -- players throughout the league will wear the decals in tribute.
"We wanted to recognize Pat's death and the defense of his country," Browne said. "But there's a balance here since Pat is one among hundreds who have died."
In Tillman's name, the foundation was created to inspire positive change. Officials with the foundation -- including Tillman's brother Kevin, widow Marie and Garwood -- have not yet designated beneficiaries of the funds collected. Garwood said more than 400 people have made unsolicited donations to the foundation through its Web site, www.pattillmanfoundation.net.
The family has no plans at this time to authorize a Tillman life story in either book or movie form, Garwood said. One book on Tillman, "Fields of Honor: The Pat Tillman Story" was published in May. Another book, "I've Got Things To Do With My Life: Pat Tillman And The Making Of An American Hero" is scheduled to hit shelves next month.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business, can be reached at email@example.com