What Is the Pat Tillman Award and Who Received It Before Prince Harry?


What Is the Pat Tillman Award for Service and Who Received It Before Prince Harry

Prince Harry and Pat Tillman
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Prince Harry being named the recipient of a prestigious ESPYs honor has left fans and critics alike asking: what exactly is the Pat Tillman Award for Service?

The Duke of Sussex, 39, is set to receive the distinction at the 2024 ESPY Awards on July 11, which recognizes a person with a strong connection to sports who has served others in a way that echoes Tillman’s legacy.

Tillman, a former star safety for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, was killed during combat while working as a U.S. Army Ranger in Afghanistan in 2004.

Harry — who served for 10 years in the British Armed Forces himself — is being recognized for cofounding The Invictus Games Foundation, which supports wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women. 

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Celebrating their 10th anniversary this year, the Invictus Games is an international event featuring both active and veteran service members competing in a variety of sporting events. 

After Harry was announced as this year’s recipient, Tillman’s mother, Mary, expressed his displeasure. 

“I am shocked as to why they would select such a controversial and divisive individual to receive the award,” she told the Daily Mail in an interview published on Saturday, 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.”

In response, ESPN stood by their decision to bestow the honor upon Harry. 

“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,” ESPN said in a statement to Us Weekly

For a rundown of past Pat Tillman Award for Service recipients and their accomplishments, keep reading. 

Joshua Sweeney (2014)

What Is the Pat Tillman Award for Service and Who Received It Before Prince Harry

Joshua Sweeney
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images

Paralympic gold medalist Sweeney received the inaugural Pat Tillman Award for Service in 2014.

Sweeney became a bilateral amputee after being injured by an improvised explosive device in October of 2009 while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in Afghanistan. 

During rehabilitation, Sweeney was drawn to sled hockey and eventually became a forward for the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team and scored the game-winning goal in the 2014 gold medal game against Russia.

Danielle Green (2015)

Green, a former Notre Dame basketball star, received the honor in 2015.

She enlisted in the Army when her playing career was over and later lost her left arm in a rocket-propelled grenade attack while serving in Iraq. After the injury, she began working as a counselor to fellow veterans. 

“I hope where they think they might not have a chance, the odds are against them, if they were ever to meet me or read my story, they would have hope and resiliency,” Green said after being recognized for the award, “that they would know if you surround yourself around good mentors, good leaders, good supporters, that you can achieve your dreams.”

Elizabeth Marks (2016)

What Is the Pat Tillman Award for Service and Who Received It Before Prince Harry

Elizabeth Marks
Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Paraswimmer Marks was honored in 2016 — with a strong connection to Prince Harry. 

Marks, a former U.S. Army Sergeant, was given the award after winning four medals at the Invictus Games, which the Duke of Sussex himself founded in 2014. 

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As receiving her medals, Marks asked Harry to return one of them to the nurses at England’s Papworth Hospital, who she credited with saving her life after she sustained injuries to both of her hips while serving as a combat nurse in Iraq. 

It was a request that Harry was happy to oblige. 

Israel Del Toro (2017)

What Is the Pat Tillman Award for Service and Who Received It Before Prince Harry

Israel Del Toro
Jim Spellman/Getty Images

Former Air Force Master Sergeant Del Toro was the second-consecutive honoree with a tie to the Invictus Games. 

After being given a 15% chance of survival and suffering burns over his entire body during a Humvee accident while serving in 2005, Del Toro set paralympic world records in shot put, discus, and javelin and won a gold medal at The 2016 Invictus Games.

“When I heard that Pat Tillman gave up a career in the NFL to serve his country after the 9/11 attacks, it gave me so much pride to call him a brother in arms,” Del Toro said after being announced as an honoree. “He truly is a shining example of Service Before Self. To Mrs. Tillman and the Pat Tillman Foundation, I give you my pledge that I’ll always try to live up to the true meaning of the Pat Tillman Award for Service in everything I do, and to represent his spirit to the best of my ability.”

After the controversy surrounding Prince Harry receiving the same award, Del Toro told TMZ he thought the Duke was a “worthy recipient.”

Jake Wood (2018)

What Is the Pat Tillman Award for Service and Who Received It Before Prince Harry

Jake Wood
Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Team Rubicon

Wood, a former offensive lineman for the Wisconsin Badgers, was awarded the Pat Tillman Award for Service in 2018. 

He enlisted in the Marine Corps after the September 11 terrorist attacks, where he was eventually promoted to sergeant and served four years in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

After leaving active duty, Wood and fellow Marine William McNulty were motivated to create the nonprofit organization Team Rubicon after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010.

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Together, they brought together a group of veterans, medical workers and first responders to head to the island to aid in relief efforts. 

“Know your neighbor, love your neighbor, help your neighbor,” Wood said during his acceptance speech. “Doing that is the best tribute we can pay to Pat Tillman.”

Kirstie Ennis (2019)

What Is the Pat Tillman Award for Service and Who Received It Before Prince Harry

Kirstie Ennis
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

A former Marine Corps sergeant, Ennis was involved in a helicopter crash that resulted in severe injuries including facial trauma, a traumatic brain injury, cervical and lumbar spine trauma and bilateral shoulder damage.

As a result, doctors decided to amputate above the knee on her left leg. 

In response, Ennis — who had been an athlete her entire life — founded the Kirstie Ennis Foundation to provide education and opportunities to other non-profit organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life of individuals and families.

“After being medically retired from the Marine Corps due to my injuries sustained overseas, I have dedicated my life to serving others in a different way. To receive the Pat Tillman Award and to be associated with a true American hero is a tremendous honor,” Ennis said at the time. “It has taken a village to get me to this point in my life, and I would not be where I am now without the amazing people surrounding me.”

She concluded, “To me, this is a symbol of community and what it means to pay it forward.”

Kim Clavel (2020)

What Is the Pat Tillman Award for Service and Who Received It Before Prince Harry

Kim Clavel
Courtesy of Kim Clavel/Instagram

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Clavel left her career as a professional boxer to return her roots as a nurse.

After becoming the North American Boxing Federation flyweight champion in December 2019, Clavel hung up her gloves and began working as an overnight nurse at retirement and elderly care centers in March 2020.

“It is an honor to receive the Pat Tillman Award on behalf of all the healthcare workers battling COVID-19 on the frontlines,” Clavel said. “Just as Pat put his NFL career on hold to serve his country, I felt the same duty to serve my community. Although recently I have pursued my dream of boxing, helping people is my passion and I’m proud to be able to make a difference.”

Marcus Rashford (2021)

What Is the Pat Tillman Award for Service and Who Received It Before Prince Harry

Marcus Rashford
ANDREW MATTHEWS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

English soccer star Rashford was honored for the millions in donations he raised alongside food charity FareShare during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Rashford was successful in helping to secure a £400 million (roughly $500 million) grant to provide meals for schoolchildren in the U.K., impacting the lives of 1.7 million kids.

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When the British government rejected a motion to extend a free school meals provision in the middle of the pandemic, Rashford got to work. 

“An athlete is the least we can be,” Rashford, who was open about his own experience growing up in food poverty, said. “Sport can be the biggest driver of positive change, with its ability to truly unite. If I have achieved anything over the last year I would hope that it would be to demonstrate to my peers what is possible when we are driven by a passion and determination for better.”

He continued, “Better not for ourselves, but for those whose voices are very rarely heard.”

Gretchen Evans (2022)

What Is the Pat Tillman Award for Service and Who Received It Before Prince Harry

Gretchen Evans
Paul Morigi/Getty Images for America’s VetDogs

Retired Army Command Sergeant Major Gretchen Evans received the award after founding Team UNBROKEN, an adaptive racing team of mostly veterans who have experienced life-altering injuries, illness, or traumas to compete in World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji.

In 2006, while Evans was deployed in Afghanistan, she was severely injured by a rocket blast that resulted in total hearing loss and a traumatic brain injury. 

Evans also found a second calling as a motivational speaker and was later inducted into the U.S. Army Women’s Hall of Fame and U.S. Veteran Hall of Fame.

“Members of Team Unbroken have had numerous doors shut in their faces and have been told they could not participate in certain activities,” Evans said at the time. “People saw us as broken due to our injuries, but we are not broken, we are UNBROKEN. We set out to be an example of inspiration and hope for the mixed-ability community. It is an honor to accept the Pat Tillman Award for Service, and I can only hope that this serves as an inspiration for others.”

The Buffalo Bills Training Staff (2023)

What Is the Pat Tillman Award for Service and Who Received It Before Prince Harry

Damar Hamlin
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for LA Art Show

When the sports world stopped after the shocking injury suffered by Damar Hamlin, the Buffalo Bills training staff stepped up. 

The entire staff was honored at the ceremony by Hamlin himself, who performed life-saving measures on the Bills safety after he went into cardiac arrest after making a tackle during a Monday Night Football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in January 2023. 

“I didn’t wake up that morning in January thinking that I would need someone to save my life that day,” Hamlin said on the ESPYS stage, “and I doubt the training staff thought that they would have to do what they did either.”

He continued, “That, as much as anything else, is what I took away from what happened to me six-and-a-half months ago. That any of us, at any given time, are capable of doing something as incredible as saving a life, and living a life in service of others.”

The 2024 ESPYS — hosted by Serena Williams — air on ABC Thursday, July 11, at 8 p.m. ET.



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