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Brothers
Terry McDonell
September 11, 2006
When the going gets tough ...
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September 11, 2006

Brothers

When the going gets tough ...

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IT WAS a Tuesday, the beginning of Sports Illustrated's "weekend" after the Monday-night close of a college football cover. But instead of going their separate ways as usual, many of SI's writers and editors were gathering in Bethlehem, Pa., for an annual golf tournament organized by senior writer Jack McCallum. Three dozen of them were either in Bethlehem or en route when they learned of the attack on the Twin Towers. Several turned around and went home, but many gathered in front of a too-small TV set in McCallum's living room and tried, like everybody else, to figure it all out.

They were still there in the morning, and by the time they split up, every major sport had announced it was canceling its slate of games. SI's next issue was the week that sports stood still, with contributions from McCallum and the others who had stood together in front of that small TV. Everything had changed, and though no one spoke of it, they were glad they had been together that day.

The games resumed, and the nation came together around sports. Stadiums became places to find strength; what had been diversion now felt like ritual. It was tribal. We were going to war, and beneath the rhetoric we knew our soldiers were athletes. It was always that way--the person you played next to in high school was suddenly in harm's way. And one way to honor them all was to go to a game. It was a way for us to tell each other who we were, and to let whoever might be watching know that we weren't afraid. This was very much with us when Pat Tillman quit the NFL and joined the Army to become a Ranger. When he wouldn't talk about it, that somehow clarified what he was doing: his duty. Twenty-three months later he died in Afghanistan.

Senior writer Gary Smith says that when he wrote the story of Tillman's death (SI, May 3, 2004), he felt like he was writing from inside a "fog of war." At deadline, three versions of how Tillman died were coming at him at the same time. The Army's version had him charging from his vehicle toward Taliban fighters. A Taliban source claimed that a villager had been used to lure Tillman's platoon into an ambush. An Afghan coalition commander said Tillman died when his vehicle drove over a land mine. Smith's story this week (page 86) was an opportunity, rare in this business, to go back and, as Smith put it, "blow away that fog ... or at least reduce it to a finer mist."

That friendly fire killed Pat Tillman is hard to take and all the more reason not to write about his death in isolation. As of Sept. 1 at least 272 members of the U.S. military have died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan since late 2001. Of those, the military reports that 171 were combat deaths. In Iraq at least 2,643 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the war in March 2003--at least 2,102 in combat. They are all Pat Tillman's brothers and sisters, which is important to keep in mind when you read Smith's piece--and also when you notice that there are two other stories in this issue about brothers.

The ones about the Mannings (page 72) and the Weavers (page 82) are very different kinds of stories, but once you know Pat Tillman's story, it is good to see brothers everywhere.

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