Plummer, NFL reach deal in fight to honor Tillman

Friend won't wear decal

league will pay tribute

October 14, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

With a boost from U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Denver quarterback Jake Plummer won concessions from the NFL and the Broncos yesterday to end a three-week stalemate over his personal tribute to Pat Tillman, a former teammate who was killed in Afghanistan last spring.

Plummer agreed not to wear a decal with Tillman's No. 40 on his helmet any longer after twice wearing it in defiance of the NFL's uniform policy. In return, the league will not fine him and will play public service announcements at all NFL games the weekend after Veterans Day.

"It does come down to the fact that I still wish I could wear the sticker," Plummer said during a news conference in Denver. "But I can't, and I'm not going to, and I think what we're doing is some good stuff."

Tillman played with Plummer at Arizona State and with the Arizona Cardinals before leaving the NFL last year to join the U.S. Army Rangers. He died in combat in April.

The league honored Tillman's memory on Sept. 19, when every player wore decals with No. 40 on their helmets. But Plummer, an eight-year veteran, displayed the sticker twice more, on Sept. 26 and on Sunday.

The Broncos also were involved in negotiations for a solution. They will honor Tillman by placing a large decal with his number next to the play clock in the north end zone at Invesco Field, and by promoting the Pat Tillman Foundation during their remaining five home games. Plummer will record those announcements on behalf of the foundation.

McCain came to his aid yesterday when he sent a letter to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue urging him to reconsider the decision not to allow Plummer to pay tribute to Tillman.

"In making your decision, I fear you have sent a message that league policy is more important than memorials to those who have sacrificed their lives for us," McCain said.

The league responded with a statement that read, in part: "We appreciate Senator McCain's interest. ... We have worked with Senator McCain and his office on several tributes to Pat Tillman since his death."

The NFL also said it will make a $250,000 contribution to build the first United Service Organizations' facility in Afghanistan, to be named the Pat Tillman USO Center for military men and women stationed there. The formal announcement will be made at tonight's annual USO Gala in Washington.

"When it gets back to me and why I'm doing this for Pat, it's not because of him giving up the game and fighting in the war," Plummer said. "It's because he was a friend of mine, a dear friend. ... It's a terrible feeling that we have to do this."

This isn't the first time the league's uniform policy precluded a personal tribute. After Baltimore Colts great John Unitas died in 2002, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning asked permission to wear black high-top cleats to honor him. The NFL denied permission.

But Ravens quarterback Chris Redman wore high-tops that weekend without seeking permission.

"Sometimes it's better to ask for forgiveness than for permission," Redman said yesterday. "It wasn't to get publicity or attention for myself. He [Unitas] was a friend of mine; his whole family was really close to me. I felt really bad and I wanted to do something in his memory."

Redman said he can empathize with Plummer.

"I totally understand what he did for a friend," Redman said. "Sometimes, those things matter a little more than the money or anything else. I thought it was a very honorable and noble thing he did. He did the right thing."

Threatened with a fine, Redman ultimately made a contribution to an unspecified cause for his penance.

The NFL made clear it would not punish Plummer, saying he "has not been fined for his actions on this issue and we have no intention of doing so. Rather, we look forward to working together with him."

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