Beliefnet's Most Inspiring Person of 2004--Pat Tillman

The football-player-turned-soldier is Beliefnet's Most Inspiring Person of the Year for 2004.

Despite our intention to keep divisiveness out of the Most Inspiring Person this year, even acts of heroism are viewed through the lens of politics. Judging from online comments and our conversations with people about this year's nominees, it seems those who see mostly tragedy in the Iraq war are most inspired by Spc. Joseph Darby, who blew the whistle on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, or Margaret Hassan, the director of Care in Iraq, who devoted her life not to killing but healing.

Those who see nobility in our Iraq effort were more likely to praise either Pat Tillman, the football-player-turned-soldier, or Jason Dunham, the young marine nominated for the medal of honor who gave up his life to save other soldiers.

We would hope that all of us could see the extraordinary courage in all four of them. Surely war supporters can admire Margaret Hassan for staying in Iraq, at obvious personal risk, to help suffering Iraqis (the point of this war was, after all, to help Iraqis) or understand that one cannot promote a moral war while concealing the immorality of prison torture. Surely even the war's most outspoken opponents can appreciate the sacrifice evident in Pat Tillman's story or the extraordinary courage and valor of Jason Dunham, who flung his helmet and possibly himself on a live grenade to protect the lives of others. Dunham won our "People's Choice" award among Beliefnet users. As one friend of Dunham's wrote, "What he did for his fellow soldiers and for mankind in beyond comprehension. In our small town of Scio he will NEVER be forgotten."

In the end, despite the great physical or moral courage of all four of them--and the incredible stories of the six other most inspiring finalists: Christopher Reeve, Nancy Reagan, Fantasia, Smarty Jones, Mukhtaran Bibi, and Curt Schilling--we choose Pat Tillman as the most inspiring person of the year.

Tillman, who walked away from a multimillion dollar NFL career to volunteer for service after 9/11, was deployed in Afghanistan, where American soldiers successfully overthrew a tyrannical regime that was subjugating its population and harboring Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Tillman was killed there in April.


We chose Tillman because he stands not only for bravery but much more. He put the nation's pervasive celebrity culture in its proper context. Our culture glorifies fame and wealth and talent. While fans may have idolized Pat Tillman for those qualities, he understood that other characteristics were more important. He sacrificed it all to fight for what he considered a just cause.

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Steven Waldman, Editor-in-Chief
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