Prince Harry Should ‘Spotlight’ Heroes to Dodge Backlash

Prince Harry could turn the negative response to a recent award win into a positive, by using the Hollywood prize giving ceremony as an opportunity to spotlight veterans and their inspiring stories, a new episode of Newsweek‘s The Royal Report podcast has heard.

Harry has faced an onslaught of negative backlash after being named the recipient of the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the 2024 ESPYs [Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award].

The award is named in honor of American hero, Pat Tillman, who after spending four years in the NFL playing for the Arizona Cardinals joined the U.S. Army in 2002 after witnessing the impact of the September 11 attacks. While serving as a U.S. Army Ranger in Afghanistan in 2004, Tillman lost his life in a friendly fire incident during an enemy ambush.

In 2014, to mark the 10th anniversary of his death, the foundation set up by Tillman’s family in his name to support veterans cofounded the ESPY award for service honoring his legacy with ESPN. The award is given to individuals who echo the spirit of Tillman with a connection to sport.

Prince Harry Awards Show
Prince Harry at the 13th Annual NFL Honors in Las Vegas on February 8, 2024. The prince is the recipient of the 2024 Pat Tillman Award for Service at the ESPY Awards.

Lauren Leigh Bacho/Getty Images

ESPN announced Harry as the recipient of the 2024 award for his service to the global veteran community through his Invictus Games tournament. The prince is also himself a veteran of the British Army having served two tours in Afghanistan.

Despite this, several prominent voices have criticized the decision to give Harry the award, most notably Tillman’s own mother, Mary Tillman, who described Harry as “controversial and divisive.” She said that in her opinion there are recipients that are “far more fitting” who do not have the privileges or international platform that he already has.

Speaking to Royal Report listeners, Newsweek‘s chief royal correspondent, Jack Royston, said that it was likely too late for Harry to decline the award with the ceremony set to take place on July 11, but that he could potentially deflect any negative reaction by making his acceptance all about the Invictus Games and its community of inspiring veterans.

It is not yet confirmed whether Harry will attend the ESPY awards which will be hosted by Serena Williams in Los Angeles on Thursday night.

“What he could do is actually try to dedicate it to an unsung hero,” Royston suggested, if the prince were to go to the awards in person or send a video acceptance speech.

“Perhaps a member of the U.S. Invictus team who he feels deserves the honor? He could use his speech to just shine a spotlight on that person and all the incredible things they’ve done, which he could explain and describe in his speech and really actually dedicate this award to them.”

Prince Harry Invictus Games Medal
Prince Harry awarding an Invictus Games medal to U.S. veteran Christy Wise in Toronto, Canada, on September 24, 2017. The prince could use his ESPY win to spotlight Invictus veterans, “The Royal Report” has heard.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation

Royston also suggested the prince could go so far as to “literally physically give” the award to them or the Invictus Games Foundation, taking the spotlight off himself and placing it on a less high-profile element of his work.

“I think at this stage, that’s probably the best way out for him,” he said. “And you know, if he were to pitch this to ESPN it might work for them too, because you know they’re a bit under the cosh as well.

“I mean, ideally, if you could bring someone in to the ESPYs and just say, ‘Look, I’m really so grateful for to ESPN and to the ESPYs for giving me this award and wanting to shine a spotlight on Invictus because it’s an important project.

“‘But really, Invictus has always been about the veterans who serve. It’s never been about me. It’s never been about a royal family member getting all of the attention. It’s always been about putting the attention on the people who matter, which is the competitors. And, the spirit of Invictus is about them and their struggle and battle to not be defeated by their injuries.’

“If he could do that, he could try and turn this back around into a positive, where he’s kind of sacrificing himself in order to actually pick the person who maybe should have got it to begin with.”

Newsweek has approached representatives of Prince Harry via email for comment.

James Crawford-Smith is Newsweek‘s royal reporter, based in London. You can find him on X (formerly Twitter) at @jrcrawfordsmith and read his stories on Newsweek‘s The Royals Facebook page.

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