ESPN Responds to Backlash Over Prince Harry Being Named the Recipient of the Pat Tillman Award at the ESPYs—Including Complaints from Tillman’s Mother Over Harry's Selection

Past recipients of the Tillman Award have also spoken out in defense of Harry, calling him a “worthy recipient” because of his work with veterans.

Close up shot of Prince Harry
(Image credit: Getty)

It was announced recently that, at the ESPY Awards on July 11, Prince Harry will be honored with this year’s Pat Tillman Award for Service, given annually to “a person with a strong connection to sports” and named in honor of Tillman, a former NFL player turned U.S. Army Ranger who died in 2004 in Afghanistan as a result of friendly fire; he was just 27 years old. Tillman left a career in football to serve his country after the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, and, after his death, Tillman won both a Silver Star and a Purple Heart for his service posthumously. 

Pat Tillman

Tillman left a career in the NFL to serve in the military after 9/11; he died in Afghanistan in 2004.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Harry—who created the Invictus Games 10 years ago to help wounded, sick, and injured servicemen and servicewomen, both veterans and those still actively serving, find community through sport—was chosen for the award named in Tillman’s honor because of “his tireless work in making a positive impact for the veteran community through the power of sport.”

rince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex visit Nigeria Unconquered, a charity organisation that works in collaboration with the Invictus Games Foundation, at Officers’ Mess on May 11, 2024 in Abuja, Nigeria.

Harry founded the Invictus Games in 2014 to help wounded, injured, and sick servicemen and servicewomen, both veterans and those still serving, find community and connection through sport.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

But not everyone was on board with the Duke of Sussex receiving this award, including Tillman’s mother, Mary Tillman, who said in an interview with The Daily Mail “I am shocked as to why they would select such a controversial and divisive individual to receive the award,” she said, adding that she has no hand in approving the honorees and thinks there are “far more fitting” people to win the award. “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. I feel that those types of individuals should be recognized.”

ESPN defended its choice of Harry in a statement to TMZ Sports, telling the outlet “ESPN, with the support of the Tillman Foundation, is honoring Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, specifically for the work of The Invictus Games Foundation as it celebrates its 10th year promoting healing through the power of sport for military service members and veterans around the world,” a representative for the network 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.”

Per The Independent, the Invictus Games thanked the ESPYs for honoring Harry and the foundation’s “work to support the rehabilitation of the international wounded, injured, or sick service community”; Harry himself said, according to People, “This one is for our entire service community.” 

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex (wearing a Household Division regimental tie and medals including his Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order cross) attends The Invictus Games Foundation 10th Anniversary Service at St Paul's Cathedral on May 8, 2024 in London, England.

Harry celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Invictus Games back in May in the United Kingdom.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

In addition to founding the Invictus Games in 2014, Harry is also a 10-year veteran of the British Army, and served two tours in Afghanistan. And past recipients of the Pat Tillman Award are speaking out in defense of Harry’s selection, like Jake Wood, who won the award in 2018; he told TMZ today that Harry is “a natural fit” and a “good choice” for the award, and that Harry’s work with veterans, per Us Weekly, “should be commended” because “there are hundreds of different ways a British royal could live his life.”

Israel Del Toro Jr., who received the Tillman Award in 2017, also added his support, saying that Harry’s work with veterans makes him a “worthy recipient” of the honor. Del Toro actually competed in the inaugural Invictus Games in 2014, and won a gold medal in shot put at the event two years later, Us Weekly reports. 

Prince Harry

Harry is a veteran himself, having served in the British Army for a decade.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at the Invictus Games kickoff

Meghan has consistently been present to honor Harry's work with the Invictus Games, and is expected to attend the ESPYs with her husband to see him receive the Tillman Award.

(Image credit: Getty)

Meghan Markle is rumored to be attending the ESPYs, which will be held in L.A. and hosted by her longtime friend Serena Williams. The awards will air on July 11 at 8 p.m. on ABC.

Rachel Burchfield
Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor

Rachel Burchfield is a writer, editor, and podcaster whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family and other royal families around the world. She serves as Marie Claire’s Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor and has also contributed to publications like Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and W, among others. Before taking on her current role with Marie Claire, Rachel served as its Weekend Editor and later Royals Editor. She is the cohost of Podcast Royal, a show that was named a top five royal podcast by The New York Times. A voracious reader and lover of books, Rachel also hosts I’d Rather Be Reading, which spotlights the best current nonfiction books hitting the market and interviews the authors of them. Rachel frequently appears as a media commentator, and she or her work has appeared on outlets like NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and more.