ESPN Got It Right

-Mike Tolsma

The Hard Truth: Arthur Ashe Courage Award

The Arthur Ashe Courage Award is known as one of the most prestigious awards in sports. The popular award is given to one person every year who displays “courage in the face of peril and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter what the cost.”

Read that last phrase: no matter what the cost. Tonight at the ESPY’s, ESPN’s yearly award show, Caitlyn Jenner was the recipient of the award. Jenner has been an overwhelmingly unpopular choice for the award. Some have said that it is a publicity stunt by the worldwide leader in sports. Fair? Maybe. There is the argument that other people are more deserving, such as local Buffalo hero Jim Kelly, or basketball player Lauren Hill who famously accomplished the goal of continuing her basketball career and registering minutes in a college game before cancer took her life. Are these fair? Of course they are. The bottom line is this: Jenner does matter. It is an awful choice in the eyes of some and an amazing choice in the eyes of others.

I think the real story about this is the fact some people don’t agree that Jenner deserves this award because she is not relevant in the sports scene. Caitlyn Jenner is a public figure with over two million followers on Twitter. She is documenting this lifestyle and has openly accepted the fact that this will come with scrutiny. We live in a country today where gay marriage is legal in all fifty states. We live in a world today where all people, gay, straight, bisexual, or transgender, should be treated equal. The highest cause for suicide in the United States is untreated depression, something many transgender people suffer from. More than 50% of transgender youth will have had at least one suicide attempt by their 20th birthday. They are at a higher risk for homelessness, substance abuse, and to be victims of violent crimes, even homicide. What Caitlyn Jenner is doing is documenting that she struggled throughout her entire life, and is now able to achieve the happiness she always longed for. It is a message for those who struggle with internal battles that many of us will never understand. If her message saves one life of a young man or woman dealing with gender issues, was this not a success?

Now, of course the easy argument is to say that other people struggle too, some with cancer, or with other diseases that risk taking your life. Relevant? Without question. The bottom line is this, in my opinion, ESPN is going after a public figure with a following (No matter what the reason for that following is) and using it for two reasons: A. Yes, of course, it will now attract viewers that may not normally watch the awards show. B. To take the opportunity to spread awareness on a matter that too many people do not understand. We need to face it; it is ESPN here. Some may say this wasn’t the platform. But with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and many more outlets to view pieces of this award show, it will touch millions of lives. Not all will agree with it; some just do not believe it is okay. But for others, it will have a positive impact and shed some light on something that needs the attention. It will save a life. That is the definition of courage.

Sports relevant? Jenner is still an American Olympian. Now, an American Olympian with a story to tell. That legacy will last forever.




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