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Prince Harry Faces Worst Backlash Yet by Angering U.S. Military Veterans, NFL Fans, and Over 40,000 Americans

Prince Harry has experienced his fair share of backlash over the past few years, as endless column inches have been devoted to the various controversies that have sprung up around the divisive Duke of Sussex. This might just be the worst of them all, from a PR standpoint, however, given that Harry has managed to upset supporters of the U.S. military and the NFL and ESPN viewers all at once.

It all started when ESPN announced that Harry was all set to receive a special award at this year’s ESPY Awards ceremony. On July 11, the prince will be awarded the Pat Tilman Award for Service, in honor of his work founding the Invictus Games, the Paralympics-style sports event for wounded military veterans.

The decision has immediately been met with blowback, though, as Pat Tilman himself is held in such high regard. Tilman was a former NFL player who signed up for the military after 9/1 and was ultimately killed in Afghanistan in 2004, at the age of just 27. Although Harry spent several years in the British Royal Air Force himself, many think that he’s unsuitable to receive an award with Tilman’s name on it.

This includes not just the 40,000+ people who have signed a petition encouraging ESPN to give the award to someone else, but also Tilman’s own mother. Mary Tilman has reacted strongly, revealing that she thinks there are those out there “far more fitting” of the award named after her son than the duke.

“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. 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.”

The petition, meanwhile, argues that the award “should honor someone who, like Tillman, has shown unwavering dedication to their squad and country.” As for why Harry is supposedly unfit for the award, the petition creator writes that his championship of the Invictus Games in recent times has been “criticized as self-centered” — Harry and Meghan Markle went on a world tour to promote the games this past spring. “He has faced accusations of endangering his squadron by publicly revealing military kills,” the petition also notes, referring to Harry’s controversial decision to discuss his military experience in his memoir, Spare.

ESPN responds to Prince Harry award controversy

AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 08: Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex attends the "Breaking Barriers, Shaping Narratives: How Women Lead On and Off the Screen" panel featuring Meghan, Duchess of Sussex during the 2024 SXSW Conference and Festival at Austin Convention Center on March 08, 2024 in Austin, Texas.
Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images

Despite all this backlash, however, ESPN is sticking to its guns, praising the Invictus Games — and Harry’s part in it — as a “cause worth celebrating” in a statement released to the press (via The Independent):

“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.”

Harry might definitely be getting his gong, then, but offending U.S. military veterans, ESPN viewers, the mother of a late American hero, and over 40,000 people probably isn’t the best look for a guy who royally needs to win over some fresh fans to crank up his plummeting popularity.

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