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Caitlyn Jenner shows why her Arthur Ashe courage award at the ESPYs is spot on

As Jenner said, 'Accept people for who they are.'


Josh Katzowitz


Posted on Jul 16, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 8:37 am CDT

When it was announced last month that Caitlyn Jenner would be awarded the 2015 Arthur Ashe Award For Courage at the ESPYs for coming out as a transgender woman in April, there was plenty of backlash by people who believed that others like Lauren Hill or former U.S. soldier and athlete Noah Galloway were more deserving.

But as she was honored Wednesday at the ESPY awards, Jenner’s courage was evident. The story she told, living her life previously for all those who looked up to her as the world’s best athlete, shows just how tough her existence must have been ever since she entered the public eye four decades ago.

She said she always felt female, even though he appeared to be such a man’s man, and that really scared her. Because she couldn’t tell anybody her truth. 

“I isolated myself all the time,” Jenner said during a video shown before she accepted the award. “I would have felt like a liar—all the time. It’s too bad, because I wasted a lot of my life and nobody knew who I am. That’s sad.”

Jenner, during the video, also admitted thinking about how she had a gun and how it would be an easy solution to end her pain. But she said she recently came to a revelation that of all the things she’d done in life — with all of the successes and accolades—that this was her calling.

“Take my struggle and maybe I can bring understanding on this subject,” Jenner said. “It’s time that I do my best.”

After showing the video of Jenner’s struggle during the past 43 years, she appeared on the ESPYs stage while receiving a standing ovation (the crowd bestowed another on her as she left the stage).

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She joked that she now understands the pressure women fell with picking out an awards show outfit and dealing with the fashion police. But she turned serious and discussed the dangers of being transgender, where bullying, murder, and suicide could play such a big part in one’s life. 

Jenner said she’s now clear what her role is—to tell her story and to do whatever she can to reshape the landscape of how transpeople are viewed and treated. But more broadly, she wants to promote a simple idea.

Despite the protests by some who didn’t agree that this was a story for the ESPYs or that Jenner didn’t deserve the spotlight or that she was simply somebody looking for publicity, Jenner’s role in this new life is brave and bold. Because what she’s accomplished in the past few months has—and will—save lives.

As her mom, Esther, said in the video, “When she was receiving that medal, I never thought I could ever be more proud. But I was wrong. I am now even more proud.”

Other highlights from the ESPYs:

Best speech of the night goes to Bengals defensive lineman Devon Still, whose daughter Leah Still has been fighting cancer and who won the Jimmy V. Perseverance Award. Find that speech online. Watch it.

And here was the cameo made by Leah, who’s going through radiation and couldn’t attend the ceremony in person.

This moment occurred before the show even started and was chronicled in full over here, but how about Ronda Rousey’s burn of pound-for-pound boxing king Floyd Mayweather, who has a well-documented history of violence against women?

Aside from winning the non-televised Fighter of the Year award, she also was honored by taking home this honor.

Something to think about during host Joel McHale’s monologue in which he blasted everybody from Jason Pierre-Paul, who blew off one of his fingers during the July 4 celebration, to LeBron James—there was one notable exception for a sports figure who didn’t have the greatest of years: 

As NFL writer Melissa Jacobs noted, McHale never mentioned NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. 

As we know, ESPN has a cozy relationship with the NFL, and in the past, the league has dictated some of what the network can show in regards to pro football.

Oh, and speaking of Pierre-Paul.

One of the most poignant moments of the entire show occurred when Lauren Hill—who became a national hero while battling pediatric brain cancer—was honored with the Best Moment award. Her parents accepted in her honor.

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After winning the first award of the night, cameras panned to Peyton Manning’s young daughter, sitting cutely next to Brett Favre. Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer also brought a member of his family.

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Illustration by Max Fleishman

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*First Published: Jul 16, 2015, 12:21 am CDT