Prince Harry Faces Major Risk at Controversial Award

Prince Harry may have to confront sporting heroes who “find it awful to have him in the room” at the Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly awards, a brand and culture expert has told Newsweek.

The Duke of Sussex is due to be given the Pat Tillman Award for Service, but has faced a backlash over whether he was the most deserving candidate.

Tillman gave up a promising career in the NFL to serve his country in Afghanistan where he was killed in a friendly fire incident in 2004, his mother Mary said Harry is too controversial and too privileged.

Prince Harry, Mary Tillman and Pat Tillman
Prince Harry (center) in a composite image alongside Pat Tillman (right) and his mother Mary Tillman (left). The prince is due to be given the Pat Tillman Award for Service despite opposition from the veterans…

Mark Wilson/Getty Images and Chris Jackson/Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation and Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

It leaves Harry with a difficult decision to make about whether to turn up in person to collect the award at an awards gala at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Thursday, July 11.

Nick Ede, a brand and culture expert, told Newsweek: “All eyes are going to be on him. It’s a massive coup for ESPN in a way because they know they’re going to get the ratings and the column inches, but the fact of the matter is it’s a controversial award to be given to him. I think it’s going to put a lot of noses out of joint and it’s a very negative thing for Prince Harry.

“I think his team should really have thought twice about even accepting it and said, ‘We’re going to decline this award’ and then nothing would have been said about it. But because they’ve accepted it and it’s gone this far we’ve got this event and all eyes are going to be on them.

“It’s going to be a very tricky situation because the other thing is nobody knows what it’s going to be like in the actual room. There will be heroes there from the sporting world who might be completely anti him and find it awful to have him in the room.

“So I think he should receive it and dedicate it to people who deserve it more than he does.”

Harry fought in Afghanistan, including as a gunner on an Apache helicopter and after leaving active service set up the Invictus Games, an Olympic-style tournament for wounded veterans from around the world.

However, he has also drawn criticism from a number of quarters for publicly criticizing his family and there was a backlash against a passage of his book in which he revealed how many Taliban fighters he had killed in Afghanistan.

Harry wrote in Spare: “So, my number: Twenty-five. It wasn’t a number that gave me any
satisfaction. But neither was it a number that made me feel ashamed.”

“While in the heat and fog of combat, I didn’t think of those 25 as people,” he continued. “You can’t kill people if you think of them as people. You can’t really harm people if you think of them as people.

“They were chess pieces removed from the board, Bads taken away before they could kill Goods. I’d been trained to ‘other-ize’ them, trained well. On some level I recognized this learned detachment as problematic. But I also saw it as an unavoidable part of soldiering.”

Some British military figures suggested the passages had put his fellow troops in danger of reprisals while the Taliban accused Harry of war crimes, appearing to take particular issue with his reference to chess pieces.

Mary Tillman said: “I am shocked as to why they would select such a controversial and divisive individual to receive the award. There are recipients that are far more fitting.”

ESPN said in a past statement: “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.

“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.”

The ESPYs will be broadcast by ABC on Thursday, July 11, at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Jack Royston is chief royal correspondent for Newsweek, based in London. You can find him on X (formerly Twitter) at @jack_royston and read his stories on Newsweek‘s The Royals Facebook page.

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