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|| News Item: Posted 2004-05-02

Shooting from the Hip: Courage
By Scott Sommerdorf, San Francisco Chronicle

I've been listening to a lot of AM radio lately.

It's scary I know - and usually guaranteed to numb your senses. But while driving around the California Central Valley (Bakersfield, Fresno, etc.) it actually had the opposite effect. I had lots of time to think about what all the talk shows were busy with.

It seems a lot of people could not understand why a guy like Pat Tillman (former DB with the Arizona Cardinals, who was killed last week while on patrol in Afghanistan) would walk away from a multi-million dollar contract to play NFL football to sign up for a dangerous stint with the Army Rangers.

While listening to the callers who were saying things like "Heck, with all that money he could just sit by the pool and enjoy life." Or, "He had the good life ... why would he risk it all?" But all agreed that he showed amazing courage.

Apparently, as best I can tell from quotes from friends and teammates, Tillman was acting on his values. He believed in what he wanted to do, and was willing to put his life on the line to do it. Now, some of you may agree or disagree with this "war on terrorism," but I think we can all stand in awe of the courage of that decision.


How many of us really give enough thought to that concept?

What are the values you hold dear? What do we choose to believe in while we do this job we do? What values do you hold that lead you away from falling into the trap of Photoshop trickery, unethical approaches, and other pitfalls?

And the concept of courage comes full circle: it takes courage to avoid making those bad choices ... and holding true to your values.


This week I have been thinking a lot about courage while driving around this place, and meeting courageous people. The story I'm working on has put me in touch with families working their way through one of the most horrible things that can happen - a child's death. These people, who are not famous and who will probably not get a headline on A-1, are showing me another kind of courage - the courage to go on with life and try again after a crippling loss.

Then I drive further and wonder if my friend Justin Sullivan has reached Iraq yet. We had breakfast on the day he was to leave. He'll be joining other photographers already there and working under unimaginable pressure and danger. He could have elected not to go, but I think he felt it matched his values, and he took the assignment.

I am so respectful of his decision. That took courage. He could have turned it down and stayed here in the Bay Area covering daily assignments.

But life, when lived fully, is not about taking the easy way out - or sitting by the pool. That's what really bugged me about the AM talk show callers; so many of them were in shock about why a man would make a choice like Tillman's. It suggested that there is a pervasive feeling in America that the ultimate goal is to live a life that gets you to the pool with an umbrella drink in your hand.

For myself, I will drive on, and hopefully have the privilege of meeting more people who have made courageous choices.

For the time being, the radio is off. I'll have plenty of quiet drive-time to think about - and pray for - the people who have stepped up to make the courageous choice.

When the time comes, I hope to have the courage to join them.

(Scott Sommerdorf is a staff photographer with the San Francisco Chronicle.)

Related Links:
Scott Sommerdorf's member page

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