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Marie Tillman: Self-expression, freedom to speak is what Pat and others gave their lives for

"As a football player and soldier, Pat inspired countless Americans to unify. It is my hope that his memory should always remind people that we must come together."

It seems like any time there's any kind of political controversy in sports Pat Tillman's name gets brought up. Now with controversy erupting over NFL players protesting the national anthem, Tillman’s name is back in the mix.

But the people who know him best say he wouldn't want his name used to score any kind of political points.

“NFL player Pat Tillman joined U.S. Army in 2002. He was killed in action 2004. He fought 4our country/freedom -- stand for our anthem -- boycott nfl," a tweet read.

You probably would have never seen this tweet -- except the president of the United States retweeted it.

Since then, many have taken to the social media to voice their opinions on what the Army ranger would think of players kneeling during the anthem. But what Tillman would do -- is not so cut-and-dried.

Marie Tillman, Tillman’s widow, spoke out to the tweetstorm featuring her husband and what he would have thought about people using his name and image.

In a statement to CNN host Brian Stelter she said:

As a football player and soldier, Pat inspired countless Americans to unify. It is my hope that his memory should always remind people that we must come together. Pat’s service, along with that of every man and woman’s service, should never be politicized in a way that divides us. We are too great of a country for that. Those that serve fight for the American ideals of freedom, justice and democracy. They and their families know the cost of that fight. I know the very personal costs in a way I feel acutely every day. The very action of self expression and the freedom to speak from one’s heart – no matter those views – is what Pat and so many other Americans have given their lives for. Even if they didn’t always agree with those views. It is my sincere hope that our leaders both understand and learn from the lessons of Pat’s life and death, and also those of so many other brave Americans.

Tillman turned down an NFL contract to join the Army Rangers -- and died serving his country. But his friends tell a uniform story. Tillman questioned a lot of things -- he didn't buy into the Iraq War -- and he never wanted to use his celebrity.

Tillman's name is used as a symbol of patriotism -- almost always by people who didn't know him.

We asked some of the people who DID know Tillman. They didn't want to appear on camera -- his friends have always said they don't want to speak for him -- but they did speak today.

Perry Edinger -- founder of Pat's Run:

You don't bring Pat Tillman into this topic. He obviously doesn't know Pat at all.

Juan Roque -- Tillman's former teammate:

Using the memory of my fallen teammate to weaponize patriotism and to label who is and who isn't an American is a gross misunderstanding of who Pat Tillman was. Pat was a man who accepted all points of view. He wanted to understand where people are coming from. He would listen. He would ask questions. He wanted to learn. He was open to being questioned and debated. He would do this without becoming upset or offended. For his memory to be used as a means to attack and demean the players protesting and those who support them is to spit on his life.

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