Organizations We Admire

The Pat Tillman Foundation: Inspiring Others Through Education And Leadership

Kathryn Maloney

Did you catch the coin toss at Super Bowl LVII? In case you missed it, the Pat Tillman Foundation scholars served as honorary captains and were able to share their success stories. 

Long before Pat Tillman became the hero we know him as today, his career started out as a linebacker for Arizona State’s football team. Tillman entered the NFL draft following his senior season with the Wildcats in 1998, but didn’t go very far — he was selected as the 226th pick by the Arizona Cardinals. Four years later, Tillman enlisted in the United States Army following the 9/11 attacks, turning down a three-year contract from the Cardinals. Tillman was tragically killed in Iraq in 2004 by friendly fire.  

In his honor, the Pat Tillman Foundation aims to provide military service members, veterans, and their spouses academic scholarships and leadership skills. In 2022, the Pat Tillman Foundation gave out more than 800 scholarships nationwide, and more than $24 million dollars invested to date. The four scholars — Fabersha Flynt, Robert Ham, HyeJung Park, and Dave Prakash — were also highlighted at Super Bowl LVII with a 90-second clip for their efforts to lead and help better society in any way they can.

Dan Futrell, CEO of The Pat Tillman Foundation, grew up a foster child in a single-family household where education was highly valued and seen as a tool for success. As a Tillman scholar himself, Futrell served five years as a Ranger-qualified Infantry Officer as well as a platoon leader, company commander, and aide-de-camp. Prior to being awarded the Tillman scholarship, Futrell graduated from the ROTC program at Gonzaga University and went on to get a Masters in Public Policy at Harvard University. Sports & Service recently spoke with Futrell to talk about his multitude of experiences and how he’s leading the foundation in the right direction with more to come in the near future. 

I am so pleased to be here with Dan Futrell, the CEO of the Pat Tillman Foundation. For those who don't know Pat's story, would you just give us a nutshell?

Pat played football for the ASU Sun Devils and the Arizona Cardinals. When 9/11 happened, he said to himself, “How do I serve my country in a way that's a little bit more than playing football?” He and his brother, Kevin, joined the U.S. Army Rangers. He deployed to Iraq and then Afghanistan. He was killed in April 2004. Uh, his, his win. Friends and family started the Pat Tillman Foundation to support veterans and military spouses going back to school. And now over 19 years, we've supported over 800 Tillman scholars with over 24 million of support, both educational scholarships and leadership development as they're starting businesses and policy and education and law in a variety of different topics and trying to make an impact out in the world. 

And I believe you're a Tillman scholar yourself?

Yeah. I served five years in the Army as an infantryman, [and] deployed a couple of times to Baghdad. In 2011, I was selected in our third class of Tillman Scholars [and] I went and got a Master's in public policy.

How did you get involved in the foundation?

You know, a guy in the second class was a friend of mine in grad school, and he suggested that I apply. I did and since then, every year we have a big event in July that brings all of our scholars together. And that event was just so motivating for me that I just kept showing up and eventually, they asked me to join the team.

Well, we love what you do, and we're trying to make an impact through sports and service. When I say those two words together, what comes to your mind?

There are people who are in military service who are, you know, of course very dedicated to serving our country. But, our relationship with the NFL through their Salute to Service program helps us to shine a light on not only military service, but all kinds of service. And so that little spot in the ven-diagram helps to get the word out about all the different ways that people can serve. 

How do you believe that sports help the military and the military helps sports?

Well, there's a lot in common. You know, there's a lot in common with regard to very concrete goals. There's a lot in common about working as a team. And, you know, the idea of leadership both in the military and on the athletic field for Pat and others, he got to show how he truly was going to be a leader — an empathetic leader. A leader that was curious, a leader that was willing to empower others in a variety of different ways. You see that both in sports on the field and on the battlefield. I think there's a lot that both sides can learn from each other and share with others.

Well, we are so honored to meet you and we love what you're doing so thank you for taking the time.

Thank you. Appreciate you so much. Appreciate it.

Photo credits: Courtesy of Pat Tillman Foundation’s Instagram