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University launches student-athlete program through Pat Tillman Foundation

First cohorts of Tillman Leadership Institute begin program in spring 2023

<p>The foundation was named after Pat Tillman, a professional football player who enlisted in the United States Army shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.</p><p></p><p>Courtesy of the Tillman Leadership Institute </p>

The foundation was named after Pat Tillman, a professional football player who enlisted in the United States Army shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Courtesy of the Tillman Leadership Institute

The University announced its first full cohort of student-athletes in the Tillman Leadership Institute, a new program run by the Pat Tillman Foundation that offers executive coaching and leadership development courses to student-athletes, businesses, charitable groups and governmental organizations, on Feb. 13. 

The foundation unveiled the TLI in January 2022, according to a press release from the foundation. Pat Tillman, the foundation’s namesake, was a professional football player who enlisted in the United States Army shortly after 9/11. After Tillman was killed by friendly fire in 2004, his family and friends created the Pat Tillman Foundation to promote the academic and leadership advancement of veterans and military spouses, according to the foundation’s website

“The Pat Tillman Foundation exists to close a leadership gap in our country through uniting and empowering veterans and military spouses,” wrote Dan Futrell, the group’s chief executive officer, in an email to The Herald. The foundation runs the Tillman Scholars program for veterans, spouses and military service members, who receive “academic scholarships, lifelong leadership development opportunities and a diverse, global community of high-performing mentors and peers.” Partners with the foundation had asked the Tillman Foundation to help them “build the kind of humble leadership in their teams that they’ve seen in their scholars for nearly two decades,” Futrell wrote, leading to the creation of the TLI.

With the institute at Brown and other schools, the foundation will look to bring its “curriculum to people who are sitting where Pat once did, as a student-athlete committed to change, which is where he really began growing into the leader he became,” Futrell wrote.


According to Futrell, the PTF connected with Brown Athletics in 2021. Soon after, in January 2022, the foundation piloted TLI programming at the University with two on-campus and two online programs. These included sessions with Tillman scholars Adrian Perkins, the former mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana and Kimberly Jung, the CEO of podcasting publisher Blanchard House. 

All head coaches of varsity athletics teams were contacted and asked to nominate students to participate in the program this year, according to Sean Hendricks, senior associate director of athletics for student-athlete development. The program aims to involve roughly 50 student-athletes from various sports and class years throughout the spring semester, he said.

The first formal cohort of Brown student-athletes met Feb. 13 in a session led by Futrell and Tabatha Renz, interim director of programs at the PTF, according to Futrell. The program will work on a hybrid schedule with in-person sessions in February and April and online sessions in March. 

“There’s already a lot on their plate with athletics and academics,” Hendricks said. “We tried to frame (the program) … in a way that wasn’t going to be too overwhelming or time-consuming.”

The programming will focus on the six attributes which the foundation considers essential for outstanding leadership: creativity, caring, decisiveness, tenacity, inclusivity and passion, wrote Colleen Reaney, director of the TLI, in an email to The Herald. Tillman Scholars will run the sessions, she added.

Students will also get an overview of career pathways and lessons on preparing an elevator pitch and transitioning to the workforce.  

According to Reaney, PTF is eager to expand TLI’s student-athlete programs across the nation and is also working with Bank of America, CLEAR and the United Service Organizations to reach professionals. The program developed and piloted at Brown last year is customizable to any university that wants to offer it to its student-athletes, Reaney wrote.

“Our goal is to help (student-athletes) develop the skill sets they’ve built on the field or the court to their next stage in life as leaders in the world,” Reaney wrote. “Not every student-athlete goes on to a career in athletics, as Pat did. But college athletics set people up to consider how to lead and how they can exemplify those leadership lessons as they move on to what’s next.” 


Grace Holleb

Grace Holleb is a University News section editor covering academics and advising. She previously covered the graduate student council beat as a senior staff writer. In her free time, Grace enjoys spending time with friends, traveling and running. 


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