Prince Harry Is Reportedly “Stunned” at the Negative Reaction to His ESPY Award Win, and Is Finding the Criticism a “Bitter Pill to Swallow”

“The reaction certainly took the shine off the award.”

Prince Harry attends King Charles' Coronation
(Image credit: Getty)

As Thursday’s ESPYs ceremony approaches—where Prince Harry will be honored with the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the L.A. event—Tatler reports that Harry is “stunned” at the negative reaction to his win, and finding it a “bitter pill to swallow.”

Following ESPN’s announcement that Harry had won the award—which is 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 at just 27 years old—backlash ensued. Perhaps most surprisingly was condemnation from Tillman’s mother, Mary Tillman, who told The Daily Mail, among other comments, that she thought there were other “far more fitting” people who should have won the award.  

Pat Tillman

Tillman enlisted in the military in the aftermath of 9/11; he ultimately lost his life due to friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

ESPN defended Harry, who is a veteran of the British Army—where he served for 10 years, including two tours in Afghanistan—and who founded the Invictus Games 10 years ago to help wounded, sick, and injured servicemen and servicewomen, both veterans and those still serving, find community through sport. The network said Harry was chosen for “his tireless work in making a positive impact for the veteran community through the power of sport.” After the backlash surrounding Harry’s selection, ESPN told TMZ Sports 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.”

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.

ESPN has defended its decision to choose Harry who, in addition to founding the Invictus Games a decade ago, also served for 10 years in the British Army.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Prince Harry

During his time in the Army, Harry also saw two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Harry is reportedly saddened by the public’s reaction to his win, especially as it relates to his work with the military and with veterans—causes extremely close to his heart. “Harry’s legacy on Invictus, the things he has achieved—that’s his real passion,” a source told The Telegraph. “This is the space in which he truly feels at home. It is something he deeply cares about. The reaction certainly took the shine off the award.”

A television consultant that works for both Disney and ESPN said, per Tatler, that Harry’s involvement in the ESPYs would draw “insane eyeballs” to the televised show, adding that “the fact that so many people are talking about Harry and this honor will delight those at the top. They will stand firm on him getting it and also, behind closed doors, be excited that such a decision has prompted such interest in this night. Like it or loathe it, Harry draws interest.” 

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in black tie at a gala

Meghan is expected to accompany her husband to Thursday's awards ceremony.

(Image credit: Getty)

Meghan Markle is rumored to be attending the ESPYs with her husband, which will be held in Los Angeles and hosted by Meghan’s longtime friend, Serena Williams. The awards will air this Thursday, 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.