UMass grad student: Tillman's not a hero

Updated: April 29, 2004, 11:16 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

AMHERST, Mass. -- A University of Massachusetts student has openly criticized Pat Tillman, calling the former NFL player a Rambo-like idiot in the school paper.

The column in question was submitted by graduate student Rene Gonzalez and published Wednesday in the Daily Collegian. It was titled "Pat Tillman is not a hero: he got what was coming to him."

Gonzalez writes that Tillman was a "Rambo" who probably acted out of "nationalist patriotic fantasies." In his own neighborhood in Puerto Rico, according to Gonzalez, Tillman would not have been considered a hero, but a "pendejo," or idiot.

The column drew harsh criticism from many on campus. University president Jack Wilson says the op-ed piece was "disgusting, arrogant and intellectually immature."

Tillman, who gave up his NFL career to join the Army Rangers in 2002, was killed in combat one week ago in Afghanistan. The military announced on Wednesday that he has been posthumously promoted to the rank of corporal and awarded the Purple Heart and Meritorious Service Medal.

"You know he was a real Rambo, who wanted to be in the 'real' thick of things," Gonzalez writes in his column, which is posted on the collegiate paper's Web site. "I could tell he was that type of macho guy, from his scowling, beefy face on the CNN pictures. Well, he got his wish. Even Rambo got shot in the third movie, but in real life, you die as a result of being shot. They should call Pat Tillman's army life 'Rambo 4: Rambo Attempts to Strike Back at His Former Rambo 3 Taliban Friends, and Gets Killed.'"

Gonzalez also says that Tillman's service was not "necessary."

"It wasn't like he was defending the East coast from an invasion of a foreign power. THAT would have been heroic and laudable," Gonzalez writes. "What he did was make himself useful to a foreign invading army, and he paid for it. It's hard to say I have any sympathy for his death because I don't feel like his 'service' was necessary. He wasn't defending me, nor was he defending the Afghani people. He was acting out his macho, patriotic crap and I guess someone with a bigger gun did him in."

In a letter to its readers Thursday, the Daily Collegian says Gonzalez' opinion in no way reflects that of the newspaper's editorial board. A column by one of the editors praising Tillman's sacrifice ran in the paper next to the one by Gonzalez.

"We do not hold back from printing news stories, columns or editorials that may upset our readership -- instead, we seek to both inform and stir debate through our publication," the letter, also posted on the Web site, reads. "Our decision to publish Gonzalez's column -- an opinion piece written by a member of our campus community -- is the only way for us to live up to this ideal."

Tillman will be eulogized at a public memorial service in his hometown of San Jose, Calif., early next week, and funeral arrangements are pending.

The body of Tillman arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Monday. His brother, Spc. Kevin Tillman, also a Ranger with the 2nd Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment, was expected to accompany the body to the funeral home, Lawrence said.

Tillman was killed in a firefight on a road near Sperah, about 25 miles southwest of a U.S. base at Khost.

After coming under fire, Tillman's patrol got out of their vehicles and gave chase, moving toward the spot of the ambush. Beevers said the fighting was "sustained" and lasted 15-20 minutes.

The Cardinals said they will retire Tillman's No. 40 and name the plaza surrounding the new stadium under construction in suburban Glendale the "Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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