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Prince Harry ESPYs controversy, explained: Why Pat Tillman’s mom is unhappy about 2024 award winner

The ESPYs celebrate the best of the best from the past year in sports, which made it no surprise that Patrick Mahomes, Caitlin Clark and LeBron James were among the award winners in 2023.

At first glance, the name Prince Harry doesn’t exactly fit in with that group. Nevertheless, Prince Harry is set to receive the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the ESPYs on Thursday.

No one questioned the award’s recipient a year ago, when the Bills’ training staff earned the honor for saving the life of Damar Hamlin with their quick actions. The selection of Prince Harry raised a few more eyebrows this year, including those of Tillman’s mother.

Here’s a closer look at the controversy surrounding Prince Harry’s ESPYs award, including what Tillman’s mother had to say about the decision.

MORE: The full story of Pat Tillman’s life and tragic military death

Prince Harry ESPYs controversy, explained

Prince Harry is receiving the Pat Tillman Award for Service to honor him for founding the Invictus Games, an international athletic competition for wounded and sick military members and veterans.

The Duke of Sussex founded the Invictus Games “to celebrate the unconquered human spirit, and shine a spotlight on these men and women who served,” the games’ official website states. The Invictus Games were first held in 2014 and have been played across the world ever since. The next Invictus Games will be held in Vancouver in February.

The Pat Tillman Award for Service has a strong connection to military service, given Tillman’s own service and the track record of winners since the award was founded. Two previous winners actually participated in the Invictus Games.

Despite that, Tillman’s mother isn’t pleased with Prince Harry’s selection.

“I am shocked as to why they would select such a controversial and divisive individual to receive the award,” Mary “Dannie” Tillman told the Daily Mail ahead of the ESPYs. “There are recipients that are far more fitting. There are individuals working in the veteran community that are doing tremendous things to assist veterans.”

Tillman explained that those individuals “do not have the money, resources, connections or privilege” that the Duke of Sussex has.

Prince Harry is the son of King Charles III and was the grandson of Queen Elizabeth II. He’s also the brother of Prince William, who is next in line to the British throne. While Prince Harry now lives in the U.S. and has a fractured relationship with his family, he once served in the British Army himself.

While the ESPYs honor some of the world’s great athletes, past winners of the Pat Tillman Award for Service tended to be under-the-radar names often with a military background. Prince Harry certainly bucks the trend of unheralded winners, but his founding of the Invictus Games seems to be right in line with the award’s theme of military service and a positive impact on the community.

MORE: Who is hosting the ESPY Awards in 2024?

Who was Pat Tillman?

Tillman was a 1998 seventh-round NFL Draft pick who emerged as a starting safety for the Cardinals. In the months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Tillman decided to pause his NFL career and enlist in the U.S. Army along with his brother.

Tillman was killed in action by friendly fire in 2004 at age 27. The U.S. Army concealed Tillman’s cause of death at first, which led his mother to spend years seeking information on the circumstances surrounding it.

The ESPYs launched the Pat Tillman Award for Service in his honor in 2014.

MORE: Complete list of 2024 ESPY Award nominees

Pat Tillman Award winners

Here’s a full recap of Pat Tillman Award for Service winners.

Year Winner Reason for award
2014 Joshua Sweeney Paralympic sled hockey player injured in military combat
2015 Danielle Green Former basketball player injured in military combat
2016 Elizabeth Marks Paraswimmer who medaled at Invictus Games
2017 Israel Del Toro Severe burn survivor who medaled at Invictus Games
2018 Jake Wood Former Wisconsin OL who served in military, founded organization to aid Haiti after earthquake
2019 Kirstie Ennis Military veteran injured in combat, created foundation to provide education and outdoor adventures to children
2020 Kim Clavel Boxer who returned to nursing profession during COVID-19 pandemic
2021 Marcus Rashford Soccer star who raised millions for food charity during COVID-19 pandemic and advocated to secure a grant that provided children with free meals
2022 Gretchen Evans Military veteran who founded racing team for disabled veterans
2023 Bills training staff Saved the life of Damar Hamlin with quick actions
2024 Prince Harry Founded Invictus Games for disabled veterans

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