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Sports editor: Tillman true to his values

John Rawlings

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Pat Tillman
Dave McGinnis

(CNN) -- Former NFL star Pat Tillman, who left his professional football career with the Arizona Cardinals to join the U.S. Army after the 9/11 attacks, was killed Thursday in combat in Afghanistan.

John Rawlings, editorial director for Sporting News magazine, joined CNN anchor Renay San Miguel to talk about Tillman's career and what impact his death might have on today's NFL draft.

SAN MIGUEL: Mr. Rawlings, we are discussing Tillman on a day when the NFL is having its annual draft. A lot of young men out there are about to get very rich, rake in an awful lot of fame. Tell us how Pat Tillman's story puts all of that into perspective.

RAWLINGS: Well, Pat's life was very consistent with what we saw of him on the football field. He was undersized and an overachiever. He was a walk-on at Arizona State, he was never offered a football scholarship. He was drafted in the seventh and last round of the NFL draft, yet made himself into an NFL player.

So what we saw, his act of leaving the NFL to join the Special Forces was very consistent with his view of life and the way he led his life.

SAN MIGUEL: Before 9/11, he had a chance to make even more money when the St. Louis Rams wanted to sign a contract for $9 million. And yet, loyalty meant so much to him that he stayed at Arizona. Why?

RAWLINGS: Again, because it's perfectly in context with his set of values. The Rams did want him -- there's a connection between Mike Martz, the head coach of the Rams and Arizona State, where he played -- but he was dedicated to Dave McGinnis, who was the head coach of the Cardinals.

[He] didn't want to leave there because he felt like McGinnis had given him a chance when he was not expected to be an NFL player, and he thought McGinnis deserved his loyalty for giving him that opportunity.

SAN MIGUEL: He made this decision to sign up with the Army after his honeymoon. He married his high school sweetheart. He didn't want any publicity on this at all. There was no news conference announcing he was leaving on his part. The team made a statement, but he made it clear he was not out for the publicity on any of this.

RAWLINGS: That was painfully clear to those of us in the media. We, among others, at the Sporting News tried very hard to get an interview with him. I believe at one time when he was stationed overseas, CNN tried to get an interview with him.

He wanted nothing to do with that, because he wanted to be just like his other soldiers, his friends, his peers, and he was doing this because he thought it was right, not because he was looking for any promotional value for himself.

SAN MIGUEL: Do you think that the other NFL players who are out there who are hearing this story today -- the ones who are about to be drafted and the ones who have been in the league for a long, long time -- are going to take some kind of lesson from this? You and I, we talk about so many stories involving athletes in trouble, the dark side of athletics. Tell me what they need to take away from this story.

RAWLINGS: I don't know that the players who will be drafted today and become very wealthy young men are much different from any of the rest of us, Renay. I think we all need to look inside ourselves and say, "What can I do to make a contribution to the greater good?"

Certainly I hope that happens today for these young men. But I would hope that more than that, it makes us all reflect on what kind of contributions we're making.

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