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Sports-9/11 connection?s missing links

Professional sports never have been shy about waving the flag and exuding pseudo-patriotic fervor. So it was no surprise that six days ago, on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, baseball and football held various forms of remembrances, from the garishly militaristic to the respectfully contemplative.

At the Mets-Marlins game in Miami, players wore seven different caps, honoring the agencies that first responded to the burning World Trade Center, and a moment of silence was observed at 9:11 p.m. At the A?s-Twins game in Minneapolis, players wore commemorative ribbons on their caps; and in Atlanta, Braves players signed autographs for donations earmarked for the World Trade Center Memorial Fund.

More than 50 United Flight 93 family members attended the Brewers-

Pirates game in Pittsburgh, where a video was shown, honoring the passengers who thwarted a possible attack on Washington, D.C., by causing one of the 9/11 hijacked planes to crash in a Pennsylvania field.

At the Chargers-Raiders game in Oakland, four fighter jets performed a flyover. At the Yankees-Orioles game in Baltimore, Bill Spade, the only member of his New York City firefighting rescue company who survived on Sept. 11, was honored.

By far the most lavish (and perhaps most achingly embarrassing) displays were held at the Vikings-Redskins game in Landover, Md., where Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, served as ?honorary observer? of the pre-game coin toss. The Joint Military Chorus sang the national anthem. Army helicopters performed a flyover. And American flags were distributed to all 90,608 fans in attendance, most of whom were rooting for a team nicknamed with an epithet for people who fell victim to more than a century of genocide conducted by the government those flags represent.

The sports-sponsored Sept. 11 tributes seemed to have it all, but it would have been nice if Pat Tillman?s parents had been included.

Tillman was a defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals when, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, he enlisted in the Army to join what he believed was an honorable battle against terrorism. While in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004, he was killed in what was widely reported as a fighting hero?s valiant death. ESPN televised a memorial service for Tillman on May 3, 2004. Later that year, shortly before the presidential election, George W. Bush exploited Tillman with a taped message played at a Cardinals game.

Since then, it has been reported and documented that military and government probes into Tillman?s death were incompetent, secretive and deceptive. Tillman was, in fact, mistakenly killed by his own men and, according to the Washington Post: ?Tillman died unnecessarily after botched communications, a mistaken decision to split his platoon over the objections of its leader, and negligent shooting by Rangers . . . who failed to identify their targets.?

It would have been nice to have heard from Tillman?s father, Patrick Sr., who, in 2005, told the Post: ?They realized that their recruiting efforts were going to go to hell in a handbasket if the truth about his death got out. They blew up their poster boy.?

It would?ve been nice to hear from Tillman?s mother, Mary, who told the Post: ?That he was the ultimate team player and he watched his own men kill him is absolutely heartbreaking and tragic. The fact that they lied about it afterward is disgusting.?

It also would have been nice to have heard from Carlos Delgado of the Mets. Two years ago, while with Toronto, Delgado took a brave and lonely position against the war on Iraq by not standing during seventh-inning renditions of ?God Bless America.? Delgado believed ?it?s the stupidest war ever? and reasoned that it had no legitimate connection to Sept. 11.

When he signed with the Mets on Nov. 28, Delgado caved in to the pressure from Mets ownership and said he would no longer be a ?distraction,? merely an ?employee.?

As Dave Zirin wrote for the online edition of The Nation on Dec. 7, ?one of the few pro athletes who had the guts to say no is now a yes man. And the silencing of that voice . . . is not a victory for democracy but a defeat.?

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