NFL and Pat Tillman Foundation select first NFL-Tillman Military Scholar

Army Staff Sergeant Patrick Nelson (right) of Dawson, MN, today was named the inaugural NFL-TILLMAN MILITARY SCHOLAR. Nelson will be recognized Sunday before the Arizona Cardinals-Minnesota Vikings game and will serve as an honorary captain for the Vikings.

This summer the NFL and Pat Tillman Foundation created the NFL-Tillman Military Scholarship to honor each year an individual who exemplifies Pat Tillman’s enduring legacy of service. The scholarship is part of the Tillman Military Scholars program established by the Pat Tillman Foundation, which is available to veteran and active service members from all branches of the U.S. military who wish to start, finish, or further their education and to dependents and survivors of service members. The scholarship covers not only direct study‐related expenses such as tuition, fees, and books, but also other needs such as room and board and child care.

Nelson, who currently attends Minnesota State University, is a former paratrooper with 39 months of combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan while serving nearly seven years of active duty in the Army. His motivation to finish his education began shortly after being wounded in Afghanistan in 2005. During two deployments in Afghanistan, Nelson took online classes and graduated with honors earning an Associate of Arts degree from Central Texas College. Nelson also started a nonprofit organization called Real Combat Life, which provides an online place for veterans to share their stories from combat with possible therapeutic results and helps educate the public on what life is like in combat from a first-hand perspective.

“Patrick exemplifies what the Pat Tillman Foundation looks for in a Tillman Military Scholar,” said Marie Tillman, Chair of the Pat Tillman Foundation. “Through his desire to further his education and continue to give back to his community, he is carrying forward Pat’s legacy of leadership and service. The Pat Tillman Foundation is honored to continue our partnership with the NFL through the creation of the annual NFL-Tillman Military Scholar recognition.”

“We are pleased to name Patrick the first NFL-Tillman Military Scholar,” said Commissioner Roger Goodell. “Pat Tillman means so much to the NFL family and we are proud to honor him by saluting Patrick, who continues Pat’s legacy of service and is an inspiration to others.”

The Pat Tillman Foundation supports educational opportunities for veterans and their families. There are currently 111 Tillman Military Scholars pursuing their education at every level, from college freshmen undergraduates to doctoral candidates. All 111 of the Tillman Military Scholars are connected by their desire to improve their own lives while continuing to serve others. The application process, open each spring, includes consideration of unmet financial need, educational and career ambitions, record of personal achievement, essay question responses, and demonstration of service to others.

The NFL has supported the Pat Tillman Foundation since its inception in 2004, donating $700,000 to the foundation. In 2004, the NFL donated $250,000 to the United Service Organizations to build a USO Center in memory of Tillman. The Pat Tillman USO Center, the first USO center in Afghanistan, opened on Bagram Air Base on April 1, 2005 and now serves 135,000 troops annually. The Arizona Cardinals and owner Bill Bidwill also have been extremely generous in their support, and team president Michael Bidwill sits on the Pat Tillman Foundation’s board. Joe Browne, Senior Advisor to NFL Commissioner Goodell, was named to the board this week.

In 2002, Pat Tillman selflessly put his successful NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals on hold to serve his country. The Pat Tillman Foundation was created by his family and friends in 2004, following his death while serving with the 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan.

For more information on the Tillman Military Scholars program, click here.

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