ESPN to honor Prince Harry with Pat Tillman Award, even though late soldier’s mother disagrees

Prince Harry on the left and Pat Tillman on the right
Prince Harry, left, will be honored with the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the July 11 ESPYs. Tillman, a former NFL player, was killed by friendly fire during a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2004.
(Kirsty Wigglesworth / Associated Press; Mike Haskey / Columbus Ledger Enquirer)
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ESPN is standing by its decision to honor Prince Harry with its Pat Tillman Award for Service at next week’s ESPYs after the choice was publicly criticized by Tillman’s mother, network personality Pat McAfee and others.

“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,” the network said in a statement emailed to The Times on Monday.

“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.”


Last week, ESPN announced the honorees for some of its special awards ahead of the 2024 ESPYs, which will be held July 11 at the Dolby Theatre. Harry was tabbed for the award named after the former Arizona Cardinal who left the NFL and enlisted in the Army shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. Tillman was 27 when he was killed by friendly fire during a tour of duty in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.

The Army’s cover-up of friendly fire in Afghanistan that killed the former football player and natural leader remains a disgrace.

April 22, 2024

In a news release Thursday, ESPN said the award is “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.” Last year’s honoree was the Buffalo Bills training staff for its life-saving efforts after safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest during a Jan. 2, 2023, “Monday Night Football” game.

The release pointed to Harry’s 10 years of service in the British Armed Forces, including two tours of duty in Afghanistan, and his founding of the Invictus Games Foundation, which has created “an international platform to support wounded, injured, and sick servicemen and women — both active-duty and veterans — who are navigating both physical and invisible injuries” the release stated.

The decision to present Harry, who quit royal duties in 2020 and moved to California with wife Meghan Markle, with the Tillman Award has been met with some backlash. Tillman’s mother, Mary, told the Daily Mail she was “shocked” by the choice.

“There are recipients that are far more fitting,” said Mary Tillman, who is not on the board or staff of the Pat Tillman Foundation. “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.”

Pat Tillman’s decision to give up his NFL career to fight for his country underlines how important it is to understand the true meaning of Memorial Day.

May 25, 2020

During a rant on Friday’s episode of his ESPN TV show, McAfee said the network “is just obviously trying to piss people off” by choosing Harry to receive an award named after someone who was an “American hero” and “the definition of selfless.”


An online petition calling for ESPN to reconsider has garnered more than 36,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon.