Prince Harry is set to receive the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the ESPY sports awards, a recognition that has sparked significant backlash. The Duke of Sussex, known for founding the Invictus Games, addressed serving military personnel and veterans just a day before the controversial award ceremony.

In a heartfelt message, Harry praised the UK personnel and veterans who will participate in the first-ever Winter Invictus Games in Vancouver Whistler next February. "Congratulations to those selected for Team UK for our first-ever Winter Invictus Games in Vancouver Whistler next February. Team UK will join over 500 competitors from across 20 nations in this groundbreaking event that expands the range and profile of winter adaptive sports," he said.

The Invictus Games, established by Harry in 2014, serve as an international adaptive multi-sport event for wounded, injured, and sick servicemen and women. The upcoming winter games will feature new challenges like alpine skiing, snowboarding, and skeleton, providing competitors with a unique platform to showcase their resilience and determination.

Despite the positive message, Harry's impending reception of the Pat Tillman Award has been met with criticism. The award, named after former NFL player and US Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2004, honors individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the military and sports. Past recipients include footballer Marcus Rashford, known for his campaign to provide free meals to vulnerable children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some have questioned Harry's suitability for the award. PR expert Ryan McCormick suggested that Harry should consider meeting with Pat Tillman's family and possibly elect another recipient. "I think the backlash against Prince Harry is completely justified as many do not view him as a plausible or worthy recipient of such an esteemed award. Pat Tillman is a valiant American hero who died on the battlefield," McCormick told The Mirror US. He added that such a gesture would be "classy and immediately kibosh this storm of negative sentiment."

Adding to the controversy, Pat Tillman's mother, Mary, expressed her disapproval of the selection. She told the Daily Mail, "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."

The criticism comes at a delicate time for Harry, who has faced backlash over previous honors, including the Living Legend of Aviation award. A source told The Telegraph that this ongoing criticism "presents a pressing problem" for Harry as he seeks to build a career rooted in his military endeavors. The source added, "Harry's legacy on Invictus, the things he has achieved, that's his real passion. This is the space in which he truly feels at home, it is something he deeply cares about. The reaction certainly took the shine off the award."

As Harry prepares to accept the Pat Tillman Award, his commitment to the Invictus Games remains steadfast. The UK team for the Vancouver Whistler Games includes a diverse group of 64 participants, encompassing various generations and branches of service. These individuals have faced physical and mental injuries, including visual impairment, amputation, traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, and other mental health issues.

Among the team members is Stephen 'Hoops' Hooper, returning for his second Invictus Games after competing in powerlifting and sitting volleyball in Düsseldorf in 2023. Hooper, who served in the RAF, was diagnosed with PTSD and medically discharged in 2021. Another notable participant is Juliet Bale, a former RAF and Army nurse who sustained a traumatic brain injury during operations in Kenya.

Louise Assioun, Team UK manager from the Royal British Legion, emphasized the significance of the Invictus Games for participants' recovery journeys. "For the selected individuals, being part of a team again, representing their country and being around others who are all on their individual recovery pathway is what makes Team UK's journey to the Invictus Games so unique. The Royal British Legion is proud to support them every step of the way."

Harry's message and the ongoing support for the Invictus Games reflect his deep commitment to the military community. Despite the controversy surrounding his award, his efforts to aid veterans and servicemen and women through the Invictus Games continue to be a central part of his legacy.