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Congressman uses dead soldier as a weapon to attack Nike for its Colin Kaepernick ad campaign

Rep. Lee Zeldin apparently thinks Nike should use Pat Tillman to sell more sneakers.

Rep. Lee Zeldin wants to use a dead soldier to sell shoes. (Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Rep. Lee Zeldin wants to use a dead soldier to sell shoes. (Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) is one of the earliest and most virulent supporters of Donald Trump. The Long Island congressman is quick to abandon any morals in pursuit of a photo op with Trump, which is how one of the only Jewish Republicans in Congress ended up hosting a fundraiser with an actual Nazi. A former military veteran, Zeldin also defended the administration when it attacked Gold Star families and law enforcement agencies.

So when Nike revealed on Monday that it is making NFL star, activist, and Trump bugaboo Colin Kaepernick one of the faces of a new advertising campaign celebrating the 30th anniversary of the company’s original Just Do It slogan, Zeldin was quick to pounce.

“Pat Tillman would have been a better choice for Nike’s new “Just Do It” promotion,” said Zeldin via Twitter. “Pick a former NFL player and Army Ranger who died for our flag and national anthem rather than @, a former NFL player who protested it.”

Tillman was a former NFL player who enlisted in the Army with his brother in 2002 following the September 11 attacks. He was deployed to Afghanistan two years later, where he was shot and killed by friendly fire.

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But the circumstances surrounding his death — the Army and Department of Defense initially claimed Tillman was killed by enemy combatants, admitting otherwise only after an internal investigation — has led Tillman’s family to be highly critical of the Pentagon, which posthumously awarded Tillman the Silver Star, a commendation for soldiers who exhibit heroism under enemy fire.

“No one who knew Pat ever doubted his physical or moral courage,” said his family in 2007, shortly after a formal report on Tillman’s death was publicly released. “But the award of the Silver Star appears more than anything to be part of a cynical design to conceal the real events from the family and the public, while exploiting the death of our beloved Pat as a recruitment poster.”

For years, Tillman’s family has been adamant that Pat’s death not be used as a tool for recruitment or politicization. After Donald Trump launched his tantrum about black NFL players protesting during the national anthem, Tillman’s widow responded when Trump and others began using Pat as a foil to Colin Kaepernick.

“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,” said Marie Tillman in a September 2017 statement. “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.”

Lee Zeldin apparently did not learn that lesson. He and dozens of Trump’s most rabid supporters, many of which have spent the last 24 hours owning the libs by burning their Nike shoes, cutting up pairs of socks and shorts, and vowing never to support the company again, have begun circulating photos of Tillman, suggesting that the company should use the death of a U.S. soldier to sell sneakers.

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For what it’s worth, Tillman forewent lucrative contracts and endorsement deals in favor of serving his country, never one to allow the sacrifice of military service to fall entirely on the shoulders of those less fortunate than himself. And once enlisted, Tillman himself began expressing strong anti-war views, questioning the legitimacy of the Iraq War which he referred to as “all bullshit.”

Tillman’s brother Kevin penned an op-ed in 2006, but its relevance to Zeldin’s comments couldn’t be more timely. “Somehow American leadership, whose only credit is lying to its people and illegally invading a nation, has been allowed to steal the courage, virtue and honor of its soldiers on the ground.”