American hero Pat Tillman’s life and legacy inspired so many – including one Arizona State University alum who made a major donation funding the endowment of a scholarship in Tillman’s name.
It’s been more than 10 years since former Arizona Cardinal and Army Ranger Pat Tillman was killed serving his country in Afghanistan. But Tillman’s legacy lives on, both in Glendale, where the Cardinals retired Tillman’s No. 40, and in Tempe, where his number is retired and his name is revered at Arizona State.
On Thursday, Tillman would have turned 38 years old, a painful reminder of just how early his life was cut short. But over the past decade, the Pat Tillman Foundation and countless others have done great work to honor Tillman’s name, ensuring that his inspiration is never forgotten.
The latest example of that commitment to saluting Tillman’s sacrifice will come Saturday, when Arizona State grad John Eddy and his wife, Tracy, will make a $700,000 donation to the university during the Sun Devils‘ game against Notre Dame The money will fund the endowment of a scholarship in Tillman’s name, to be given annually to an Arizona State linebacker, starting next season.
For Eddy, who went to school with Tillman, the gesture was the least he could do. Because if anything, Eddy credits Tillman for getting his own life on track.
“When I graduated, I was kind of going along in life and he up and left the NFL, and I think, for me, it really caused me to look at my life and the world in which we lived,” Eddy said in a phone interview Thursday with FOX Sports.
“He was motivated not by fame or money, but by trying to do the right thing, and it really helped inspire me at a young age to pursue things that are worthwhile and that help your community and are selfless. And so as the years have gone by … I’ve sort of tried to live up to that ethos that he lived fully.” John Eddy
Now a partner at a private equity company in Denver, Eddy grew up in Arizona, not far from where Arizona State plays. And as a kid “of modest means,” he reveled in the opportunity to go to the occasional Sun Devils game with his father, who suffered from multiple sclerosis but would still scrimp and save to be able to take his son to see the team.
“We couldn’t go all the time, but when we did, it was a huge event,” Eddy said. “So when we would come to these games, I was just sort of in awe of all the students. And you know, you’re a young kid, and it’s like, ‘Wow, what is this?’ The stadium provided this area of community that I got to know, and my dad would push that a college education is incredibly important.”
Motivated by his experience with his dad at Arizona State games as a kid, Eddy would go on to attend the school, starting classes a few months after his father passed away. And when Eddy got to school, he says he did so, in a way, hoping to honor his dad.
“I really believe in the redemptive nature of suffering,” Eddy said. “You go through these hard things and you can either reject the lessons that you learn from them, or you can internalize them and realize how much it means. So when he passed, it was really hard, but it also gives you the motivation to do well for yourself and to do the best you can for those around you.”
Afterward, Eddy became acquainted with Tillman – the two initially met at legendary Tempe burger hotspot Chuckbox – and though the two were never particularly close friends, Eddy followed Tillman’s career and was in awe of the way the hulking linebacker lived his life.
“When you met him, he was one of those rugged spirits that just walked a different path – and anyone that’s met him knows what I’m talking about,” Eddy said of Tillman. “So he sort of reoriented my view of how the world worked and what passion is, and dedication. And then he was just this incredible player on the football field.”
That talent would eventually take Tillman to the NFL, where he was drafted in the seventh round in 1998. But it was Tillman’s decision to leave for the Army after 9/11 that had the most profound impact on Eddy and eventually inspired him and his wife to make the endowment that he did in Tillman’s name.
“I want the scholarship to last forever … Long after we’re all gone, I want people to know the kind of person that Pat Tillman was, and as these young 17- and 18-year-old men come to Arizona State, I want them to know what they’re expected to live up to,” Eddy said. “Because it’s not about the fame, it’s not about the money, it’s about living a quality, heart-filled, passionate life and doing the right thing, and if they can pursue their dream and get a college education, that’s going to matter a lot more in the long term than just what they do on a Saturday.”
At the game Saturday, Arizona State also will be honoring the military by giving away all of the seats in the Honor Row – a row of seats behind the Sun Devils bench reserved for military members – to Purple Heart recipients, in addition to some 300 other tickets given away to service members around the stadium
But when Eddy and his wife take the field to present a check during the second quarter, it’s Tillman’s legacy that will once again be front and center — as it always has been, will be and should be.
“You like to think that we all just kind of hurtle through this world without any sort of happenstance, but the fact that we really thought about this and the fact that his inspiration (impacted) my life and some of the very personal decisions in my life and how I look at my life and what matters to me and my wife — just to come here today … it kind of gave me goosebumps,” Eddy said.
“It’s such a small world, and we all are so interconnected whether we realize it or not. It’s easy to live in a social media world where we’re all so disjointed from one another, but we really are community and all of us matter, and we all have to take care of one another.”