Controversy erupts over ESPN choice to give Prince Harry award named in honor of American military hero Pat Tillman

By 
 July 7, 2024

There appears to be another controversy brewing that involves the British Royal Family's Prince Harry that has stunned and upset many people.

Tens of thousands of people have signed a petition urging ESPN to reconsider its decision to honor Harry with the Pat Tillman Award for Service over his work with sick and wounded veterans and service members via the Invictus Games, according to Geo News.

Tillman was a star NFL safety who walked away from a multi-million dollar contract at the height of his career after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to enlist in the military, where he became a member of the U.S. Army Rangers but was killed in a friendly fire incident in 2004 while deployed to Afghanistan.

Prince Harry to receive Pat Tillman Award for Service

In late June, ESPN announced the recipients of its three most prestigious awards at the upcoming ESPY Awards show that included Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, for the Pat Tillman Award for Service, which is "an award given to a person with a strong connection to sports who has served others in a way that echoes the legacy of the former NFL player and U.S. Army Ranger, Pat Tillman."

Harry, who served 10 years in the British military and did two tours in Afghanistan -- first as a forward air controller and second as an Apache attack helicopter co-pilot -- later went on to create and support the Invictus Games, a sort of paralympic-style athletic competition for sick and wounded active-duty and veteran service members.

It was Harry's "tireless work in making a positive impact for the veteran community through the power of sport" that earned him the honor of the Tillman award, per the sports network.

Petition gains signatures; Tillman's mother leads outcry

There was a nearly immediate outcry over ESPN's selection of Prince Harry for the prestigious award, including a Change.org petition that has received more than 67,000 signatures thus far that calls upon the network to reconsider its "disconcerting" decision to grant the award to the Royal Family celebrity.

"Prince Harry, while a former military officer, has been involved in controversies that call into question his suitability to receive an honor of this magnitude," the petition stated, including unconfirmed accusations of misconduct during his military service and criticism that his Invictus Games work has been "self-centered."

Though not affiliated with the petition, the outrage over Harry being picked to receive the Pat Tillman award has been driven in large part by the complaints of the late hero's mother, Mary Tillman, who fervently disagreed with the choice and complained about not being consulted by ESPN ahead of the announcement, according to the Daily Mail.

"I am shocked as to why they would select such a controversial and divisive individual to receive the award," Mary Tillman said. "There are recipients that are far more fitting. There are individuals working in the veteran community that are doing tremendous things to assist veterans."

"These individuals do not have the money, resources, connections or privilege that Prince Harry has," she added. "I feel that those types of individuals should be recognised."

Mary Tillman is certainly not alone in rebuking ESPN's decision, as she was joined in doing so by ESPN host Pat McAfee, according to Outkick, who launched into a tirade on his morning show on Friday and criticized his employer as he accused those running the ESPY award show of "obviously trying to piss people off" and drive up TV ratings with the "BS" and "gimmick" selection of Prince Harry for the Tillman award.

Past recipients support decision; ESPN stands firm on choice

Yet, not everyone disagrees with the choice, as TMZ reported that two previous Tillman award recipients, U.S. Marine veteran Jake Wood and Air Force veteran Israel Del Toro Jr., both insisted that the Duke's military service and Invictus Games work were more than sufficient to qualify him for the award despite any other unrelated Royal Family controversies and drama.

As for ESPN, NBC News reported that network has stood behind its decision to honor Prince Harry, as a spokesperson said in a statement, "While we understand not everyone will agree with all honorees selected for any award, the Invictus Games Foundation does incredible work and ESPN believes this is a cause worth celebrating."

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