ESPN is drawing criticism for selecting Prince Harry as the Pat Tillman Service Award recipient at this year’s ESPYs, including from the fallen soldier’s mother and a host of one of the sports network’s more popular shows.

Every year the Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly awards show, or ESPYs, honors one individual with an award in memory of Pat Tillman, a former NFL safety who enlisted in the Army following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Tillman was killed on April 22, 2004, in a friendly fire incident while deployed to Afghanistan. He was 27 years old.

The late soldier’s mother, Mary Tillman, told the Daily Mail she was not consulted by ESPN on the award decision. Tillman called ESPN’s selection of Prince Harry, who left royal duties and moved to California with his wife Meghan Markle, a “controversial” and “divisive” choice.

“There are recipients that are far more fitting,” Tillman told the Daily Mail, which was first to report on the controversy. “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. I feel that those types of individuals should be [recognized].”

Last Friday on his ESPN show, Pat McAfee said the network was “obviously trying to piss people off” by selecting Prince Harry. As of Tuesday, an online petition asking ESPN to reconsider the selection had garnered more than 45,000 signatures.

In a statement announcing the awardees, ESPN highlighted the former prince’s 10 years of service in the British Armed Forces as an Apache helicopter pilot, which included two tours of duty in Afghanistan, and creation of the Invictus Games Foundation to help wounded and injured service members compete in athletics.

Last year the award was presented to the Buffalo Bills training staff for life-saving actions taken when Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest during a game.

The 2024 ESPYs will air July 11.

Zamone “Z” Perez is a reporter at Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched international ethics and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.

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