Pat Tillman's Mother Livid After Prince Harry Wins Her Dead Son's Award - 'I Am Shocked'


Editor’s Note: Our readers responded strongly to this story when it originally ran; we’re reposting it here in case you missed it. 

Former NFL legend Pat Tillman and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, served as troops in the West’s war on terror. Beyond that, they couldn’t be more divergent as people or personalities.

Tillman, you may remember, walked away from the Arizona Cardinals and millions in contract money after 9/11 to serve his country, eventually dying during a mission in Afghanistan.

Harry has survived, obviously, returned to his role as a royal, then decamped to California to become a “working royal” with his wife, Megan, Duchess of Sussex.

That “working” has involved, um, interesting stints with streaming giants Spotify and Netflix, an Oprah interview that went about as well as interviews that controversial figures with Oprah tend to go, and a salacious memoir called “Spare” — of which the best thing that can be said, on Harry’s part, is that the title is wittier than anything in the book and that one suspects the Duke of Sussex didn’t even read very much of it, much less write a single page of the dross.

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His charity, announced with much fanfare, could not legally raise money due to its various delinquencies as of May. He is now competing for the black sheep of the Windsors with a former close associate of the late Jeffrey Epstein.

And he is now — get this — the coming recipient of the Pat Tillman Award for Service awarded by ESPN at this month’s ESPY Awards.

Tillman’s mother, as you might imagine, wants to have a word with ESPN.

Just in case you missed it, the Duke of Sussex will be receiving one of the two most solemn honors at the ceremony on July 11. The Arthur Ashe Award for Courage — first awarded in 1993 to the dying former North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano, who gave a memorable speech that still brings tears to the eyes of any sports fan who remembers even a moment of it — will be given to Steve Gleason, the former New Orleans Saints player.

Gleason, you may recall, is considered by many to have sparked the “rebirth” of New Orleans (and at least of the Saints) in the months after Hurricane Katrina when — in the opening minutes of the first game the Saints played back in the Superdome in 2006 since the damage caused by the storm forced them to play in San Antonio for all of 2005 — he blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown.

He has since waged a brave battle against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more colloquially known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and has been involved in spreading awareness of and fundraising for those with the terminal condition.

Last year’s winner of the Pat Tillman Award for Service, meanwhile, was the training staff of the Buffalo Bills, which quite literally saved the life of Damar Hamlin after he was clinically dead on a football field during an NFL game.

I mention this all because, to the provenance of the rare solemn moments during the ESPYs, we are now adding the name of Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex.

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You may imagine why, perhaps, this is not exactly sitting well with Tillman’s seemingly livid mother Mary, who publicly called Harry undeserving of the honor after the announcement.

“I am shocked as to why they would select such a controversial and divisive individual to receive the award,” Mary Tillman told the U.K.’s Daily Mail in a piece published June 29.

“There are recipients that are far more fitting. There are individuals working in the veteran community that are doing tremendous things to assist veterans,” she said.

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“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.”

ESPN, for its part, said Harry was receiving the honor because of his “tireless work in making a positive impact for the veteran community through the power of sport” through the Invictus Games, a Paralympics-style event for wounded and injured veterans.

Harry did also serve in Iraq and Afghanistan — something which I suspect involved more courage and commitment on his part than the Invictus Games, although I’ve been known to be wrong.

That said, the aforementioned chief competitor with him for black sheep of the Windsors — you know, the one that spent plenty of time chilling with Jeff and Ghislaine — also served his country honorably.

Harry also has done plenty of charity work, but this is what one expects the royals to do.

Their job, for the most part, is to 1) act as hereditary ambassadors from the United Kingdom to the rest of the world and 2) not embarrass the family or the country.

Honoring Prince Harry for doing No. 1, which is more or less obligatory for someone in his position, while ignoring the fact he’s also been pretty busy ignoring No. 2 is a severe abdication of responsibility on ESPN’s part.

Furthermore, no matter how one feels about the war on terror, Pat Tillman represents the best of America during that tumultuous period in our nation’s history. He walked away from fame and fortune to die on the battlefield in Afghanistan.

Honor, duty, service, loyalty, patriotism: These are the words that one thinks of when one conjures up memories of Tillman.

That’s why the ESPY award bears his name: its talismanic power for all those who follow sports.

However, to harness that talismanic power, one too needs to respect those who continue to keep his memory alive — especially the woman who gave birth to him.

Perhaps in the corners of the corporate media behemoths where decisions about ESPN’s brand are made, the Sussexes’ star power still carries some gravitas. For the rest of us, they’ve become emblematic of the tawdry side of elitist entitlement, practically the diametrical opposite of Tillman-esque sacrifice.

So, bottom line, unless the ESPYs wants to hastily create the Terrell Owens Award for Shameless Self-Promotion While Still Performing Reasonably OK in Other Aspects of Your Professional Life in Which You Are Expected to Perform Reasonably OK, I’d maybe give honoring Harry a pass.

Since that award’s a bit of a mouthful and this is pretty short notice, I’d propose a more reasonable option: Give Harry the option of bowing out. If he doesn’t want to, tell him corporate execs are bowing him out without his involvement in the process. (The Windsors seem to have done this rather efficiently, if they need advice on how to do this.)

If they can’t manage to do that, this might get ugly.

So, grab a seat, pull up social media on July 11, watch whatever this royal failson has to say while accepting an award in the name of Mr. Tillman and, in the words of the aforementioned Mr. Owens, “Get your popcorn ready.”

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture