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Don’t Look Now, But The British Tabloids Have Discovered The ESPY Awards

Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, arrives at a charity polo game at the Ikoyi Polo Club in Lagos on May 12, 2024 as he and Britain's Meghan (unseen), Duchess of Sussex, visit Nigeria as part of celebrations of Invictus Games anniversary. (Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)
Kola Sulaimon/AFP

The ESPYs are Thursday, and you all know what that means: It is an excellent time to finish that book you've been reading. Except maybe this year, if angst, annoyance, and recrimination are your thing, and really, why wouldn't they be?

The reason why these ESPYs might not be a diamond-hard pass is the mess that's been made of the Pat Tillman Award For Service, named for the former football star who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan under suspicious circumstances. It's an award for devotion to duty, decency, and humanity, and it's a bauble of considerable admiration for those who win it. Last year, for example, the Buffalo Bills training staff won it for saving Damar Hamlin's life. Two years before that, it went to Kim Clavel for pausing her professional boxing career during the pandemic to return to her other job as a nurse. The first year's recipient went to Joshua Sweeney, the U.S. paralympic hockey player who lost his legs to an IED in Afghanistan.

And this year's winner, as chosen by the network: Prince Harry.

Yeah, that one. His credentials for the award are for serving in the U.K. military for a decade and rising to the rank of helicopter commander in Afghanistan, and for co-founding the Invictus Games, an Olympics-styled gathering of wounded, injured, and sick servicemen and women, both serving and veterans. And that he's famous. And if you believe the British tabloids, because he and his wife are collecting awards because he has little else going on since leaving royal life.

That seems catty if you're not following the royals, and if you are, the problem is likely you. But the prince and princess (or duchess; it’s complicated) have taken a steady hammering in the press since leaving for the non-royal enclave of Montecito, California, with Meghan marketed as the evil vizier in many of the told tales.

Not only that, Mary Tillman, Pat Tillman's mother, was not consulted about the award bearing her son's name and finds the awarding to the prince as—well, let her tell it:

“I am shocked as to why they would select such a controversial and divisive individual to receive the award,” she told the Harry-bashing Daily Mail. “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.”

She later confirmed to NBC News that she actually said this, but declined further comment. The point was made. 

The backlash to the announcement has been such that the prince is "shocked" by its size and vehemence (again, tabloidese) and there have been calls for him to decline the award because of that reaction. So far, he seems prepped to take the stage while catching the unfriendly fire of judgment around the royal-obsessed part of the world.

In other words, a moment designed to be one of triumph is now just another prompt for scorn, and while we cannot measure how much of it is justifiable as opposed to the Pavlovian rage that comes with the prince's life choices, we also don't care that much. After all, he has managed to dredge up all the old stories of his great uncle, who as Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry an American divorcée and either did or didn't provide support and even information to the Nazis during the war. Now that’s when scandals were scandals.

However this plays, though, giving an award to someone over the objections of the mother of the person the award is named for makes for potentially skin-crawling viewing. Maybe that's your thing. If not, at least you've still got that book.

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