Pat Tillman (search), a former NFL player killed while serving as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan, was promoted posthumously from specialist to corporal, an Army spokeswoman said Thursday.

"The Army always notes that rank and promotion are not a reward of what was done well, but a recognition that you have the potential to do more," said Army spokeswoman Martha Rudd. "This promotion is essentially saying he would have been a fine leader."

Tillman, who walked away from a three-year, $3.6 million contract offer from the Arizona Cardinals (search) to join the Army in 2002, was killed April 22 when the Army patrol was ambushed near the Afghan-Pakistani border.

The promotion for Tillman was lateral, Rudd said, and will not affect any benefits his family receives. Both ranks are E4, or the fourth rank available for enlisted soldiers.

Although Tillman never publicly offered reasons for his decision, several friends have said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks affected him deeply.

Tillman was the first NFL player killed in combat since Buffalo offensive tackle Bob Kalsu (search) died in the Vietnam War in July 1970. Nineteen NFL players were killed in World War II.

The Cardinals have said they will retire Tillman's No. 40 and name the plaza surrounding the team's new stadium in suburban Glendale the "Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza."

The University of Massachsetts (search) campus in Amherst, meanwhile, has been roiled by a student's newspaper column that said Tillman was not a hero but rather a "G.I. Joe guy who got what was coming to him." Graduate student Rene Gonzalez (search) also criticized America's military response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

UMass president Jack Wilson issued a statement saying the comments in The Daily Collegian on Wednesday were "a disgusting, arrogant and intellectually immature attack on a human being who died in service to his country."

Gonzalez did not respond to telephone and e-mail messages left Thursday by The Associated Press.

The newspaper's editorial board ran a letter to readers in Thursday's edition saying Gonzalez's views do not reflect The Collegian's opinion.