Caitlin Jenner Courageous But Others More Deserving of ESPY ‘Courage Award’ (And Other ESPY Thoughts)

The ESPN “ESPY Awards” was a slick, overly produced program that highlighted some of the best athletes and entertainers in the game. But the ESPYs strive to go above and beyond regular awards show. It succeeds with its Arthur Ashe Courage Award that this year went to Caitlin Jenner. Jenner can certainly be viewed as courageous but it’s hard not to think picking her was a bit exploitive. Indeed, other were deserving of the award.

Caitlin Jenner
Caitlin Jenner

Past AACA winners include Robin Roberts and Pat Summitt, two women who battled debilitating and life-threatening illnesses; Nelson Mandela; Pat and Kevin Tillman; several passengers of Flight 93 (posthumously); William David Sanders, a coach who died in the Columbine shootings; and Jim Valvano, the North Carolina State basketball coach who died of cancer.

Jenner’s resolve to be who she really is has caught the world’s attention. Her Vanity Fair cover quickly went viral. Few doubt her reality show, “I am Cait,” could reach record viewership when it debuts later this month.



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Many—including The Shad—are skeptical about Jenner getting an award named for Arthur Ashe, the embodiment of courage. NBC’s Bob Costas was harsh. “It strikes me that awarding the Arthur Ashe to Caitlin Jenner is just a crass exploitation play. In the broad world of sports, I’m pretty sure they could’ve found someone -– and this is not anything against Caitlyn Jenner –- who was much closer to actively involved in sports, who would’ve been deserving of what that award represents.” Ouch.

To me, it’s not so much that Jenner doesn’t deserve it, it’s that others deserve it far more. How about Pete Frates, the Boston College baseball team captain who inspired the viral “Ice Bucket Challenge?” Frates was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosisin), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, in 2012. The challenged raised more than $100 million for ALS research.

Pete Frates
Pete Frates

It’s hard to imagine Jenner deserves the award more than Lauren Hill, the Mount St. Joseph College (OH) basketball player who courageously battled brain cancer while staying on the university team. She died April 10th. (ESPN ended up giving Hill’s parents a special award).

Lauren Hill
Lauren Hill

Then there’s the team of Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still and his beautiful 5-year daughter Leah who is battling cancer. Still’s love and support of his daughter inspired all who saw it. She’s now receiving stem cell treatment. (Devon and Leah got the award for perseverance and the video was tear-inducing.)

Devon and Leah Still
Devon and Leah Still

The point is, there are plenty of courageous athletes or sports-related people who don’t have reality shows, who don’t land on the cover of Vanity Fair and who didn’t tweet, “What the hell am I going to wear?” after hearing of the award. One of them should have been chosen.

Other thoughts on the ESPY’s:
• Joel McHale was funny as was the “30 for 30” parody about McHale’s monologue. However, he did elicit an audible grown when he observed that MMA fighter Rhonda Rousey “has knocked out more women than Bill Cosby.”
• The A-Rod apology segment was funny until the end. Quit while you’re ahead.
• LeBron James was fortunate not to lose to a horse (Triple Crown winner American Pharoah).
• Alex Morgan, Lindsay Vonn and Rousey rocked their gowns (yes I know that’s sexist but it’s true).
• Halle Berry is still drop-dead gorgeous (see the above parenthetical).
• I want to go on the Gronk Cruise with Gronk and his also-very-large brothers. Gronk gave a nice shout out to Patriot Nation in winning the “Comeback Award.”