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The Next Generation of Leaders

Family and friends established the Pat Tillman Foundation following Pat’s death in April 2004 while he was serving with the 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan.

Our mission is to unite and empower remarkable military veterans and spouses as the next generation of public and private sector leaders committed to service beyond self. Through the Tillman Scholars program, we are building the leading fellowship program for military veterans and spouses. Founded in 2008, the program supports active-duty service members, veterans and their spouses with academic scholarships, a national network, and professional development opportunities, so they are empowered to make an impact at home and around the world. The Tillman Scholars are already making a difference in the fields of medicine, law, business, technology, education, the arts and more. Read our 2018 Impact Report to learn why your support isn’t a gift – it’s an investment.

By the numbers

  • 580+

    Tillman Scholars in our network

  • $16M

    in academic support to date

  • 100+

    Universities attended

“People ask how the foundation was started – if Marie started it, or if a group of friends started it –

I would tell you, Pat started it.”

-Alex Garwood, Founding Executive Director

  • 2002

    Pat Tillman put an all-star NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals on hold to serve his country in the wake of the attacks of 9/11.

  • 2004

    After Pat's death, family and friends founded the Pat Tillman Foundation with a $1.25 million pledge to Arizona State University to create the Tillman Scholars-ASU Leadership Through Action™ program at the W.P. Carey School of Business.

  • 2008

    The board of directors, led by Marie Tillman, refocused the mission of the foundation to support veterans and spouses through educational scholarships, tools and a support network.

  • 2013

    Every year, up to 60 new visionary Tillman Scholars are added to the community who build on Pat's legacy, principles and commitment to service.


Patrick Tillman was born to parents Mary and Patrick on November 6, 1976, in San Jose, California. The oldest of three boys, Pat was a caring and protective brother and a natural leader with a tendency to push limits – in life, the classroom and on the field.

At Leland High School in San Jose, California (1990-1994), that challenger mentality would become his signature. His diligence and relentless curiosity amazed almost everyone he came into contact with. In high school he was a star who led his high school team to a Central Coast Division I Football Championship – after he was told he was too small to ever play football.

Arizona State University recognized Pat’s potential both in classroom and on field with a scholarship to play for the Sun Devils. What Pat lacked in physical size he more than made up for in intensity as linebacker. He led ASU to the 1997 Rose Bowl after an undefeated season, earned three consecutive selections to the Pac-10 All-Academic Football Team, a 1st team Academic All-American honor, as well as the NCAA’s Post-Graduate Scholarship for academic and athletic excellence. Between games, Pat earned a B.S. in Marketing, graduating Summa Cum Laude from ASU’s prestigious W.P. Carey School of Business, in three and a half years.

Pat gained admiration and high regards from his professors, coaches and fans alike. “You don’t find guys that have that combination of being as bright and as tough as him,” remarked his ASU coach. The Arizona Cardinals agreed, and selected Pat in the 7th round of the 1998 NFL Draft. Many people doubted his ability to deliver as a starter on the Cardinal’s opening-day roster. He answered that skepticism by becoming the team’s starting safety and broke the franchise record for tackles in 2000 with 224.

Pat’s NFL success did not go to his head or break his principles. He still drove to games in the same beat up truck he had in college. He had no cell-phone. Instead he chose to read voraciously and develop, debate, and discuss his ideas with eager listeners, family and friends. He made your passion his passion. In the off-season he challenged himself physically with marathons and half-Ironman triathlons while pursuing a Master’s degree in history from his alma mater. He volunteered with Boys and Girls Clubs, the March of Dimes, and read and talked to students in schools across the Phoenix Valley.

The day after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Pat told a reporter, “At times like this you stop and think about just how good we have it, what kind of system we live in, and the freedoms we are allowed. A lot of my family has gone and fought in wars and I really haven’t done a damn thing.”

In the spring of 2002, Pat married his high school love, Marie, and upon his return from their honeymoon, announced to the Cardinals he had decided to place his NFL career on hold to enlist in the U.S. Army with his brother, Kevin. The decision shocked many and garnered national media attention despite his refusal to speak publicly about the choice.

“Pat knew his purpose in life,” Dave McGinnis, former Arizona Cardinals head-coach said. “He proudly walked away from a career in football to a greater calling.”

Pat and Kevin joined the U.S. Army that July, committing to a three-year term. They were assigned to the second battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment in Fort Lewis, Washington. They served tours in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2004. On the evening of April 22, 2004, Pat’s unit was ambushed as it traveled through the rugged, canyon terrain of eastern Afghanistan. His heroic efforts to provide cover for fellow soldiers as they escaped from the canyon led to his untimely and tragic death via fratricide.

While the story of Pat’s death may have been the most publicized in the War on Terror, it is Pat’s life, principles and service that are his true legacy. Pat’s family and friends started the Pat Tillman Foundation to carry forward that legacy by giving military veterans and spouses who embody those principles the educational tools and support to reach their fullest potential as leaders, no matter how they choose to serve.