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ESPN awards Caitlyn Jenner courage award, faces immediately backlash

Caitlyn Jenner's 'Arthur Ashe Courage Award' selection rubbing fans the wrong way.


Josh Katzowitz


Posted on Jun 3, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 4:47 pm CDT

One day after the cover photos of Caitlyn Jenner for the July issue of Vogue were released to much social media publicity—you can read all about it right hereESPN announced Tuesday that Jenner, the Olympic gold medalist and reality TV star, would be honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2015 ESPYs next month.

Wrote ESPN: “Although Jenner first captured the attention of the nation for his athletic prowess and determination, the same strength of character shone through this past April when he sat down with ABC’s Diane Sawyer to come out as a transgender woman.”

The honor, though, isn’t sitting well with a number of sports fans, some of whom are upset that ESPN is recognizing Jenner for an award that previously had been given to former college basketball coach Jim Valvano (who had a brave battle with cancer before succumbing to the disease), four of the passengers on United Flight 93 on 9/11, and Pat Tillman (a former NFL standout who was killed by friendly fire as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan).

As critics have been pointing  out, there were plenty of other candidates who could have been selected rather than Jenner.

Here are some of them:

1. Noah Galloway: He was badly injured in Iraq, losing most of his left leg and arm, but he’s since become a long-distance runner and he finished third on Dancing With the Stars. There was a rumor floating around the Internet on Tuesday that ESPN had replaced Jenner with the already-selected Galloway, but Snopes has refuted that notion.

2. Lauren Hill: The former college basketball player at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati who became a national hero when, after she was diagnosed with pediatric cancer, raised $1.5 million for cancer research before she died in April.

I used to live in Cincinnati and therefore, have many Facebook friends who reside in the Queen City. Many of them seemed to take it as a personal affront that Jenner was selected instead of Hill. Here was the take of Local 12’s Richard Skinner:

“Does anyone really think ESPN believes someone who decided to have a sex change is really more courageous than a girl who faced imminent death at a young age head on and turned it into an inspiring story that helped raise funds to fight cancer? It’s just my opinion, but of course it doesn’t. It just appears to be a great way for the network to grab attention for its worthless ESPYs Awards Show…”

(For the record, Jenner has not had a sex change. She’s simply come out as transgender.)

3. O.J. Brigance: The former NFL and Canadian Football League  standout has been battling ALS valiantly for the past several years, and though he can no longer speak, he’s still employed by the Baltimore Ravens in player development to help motivate and inspire those around him.

4. Jim Kelly: The Hall of Fame quarterback has battled jaw cancer twice in the past couple years, and yet, he’s survived and beaten the disease twice with humility and grace.

The simple answer, though, is that there’s no right answer. Yes, Hill was brave and made a national impact. Galloway was a hero and is an inspiration. Brigance is a wonder. And Kelly’s battle has only enhanced his reputation as a person and as a fighter.

But there’s little question in my mind that Jenner has been courageous in her journey and that her story also will help thousands and thousands of people throughout this country. Jenner isn’t a joke; she’s an inspiration.

Here was tennis legend Billie Jean King’s take on the ESPN selection.

“Caitlyn Jenner is finally able to live her truth, and it has taken an immense amount of courage to do all she has done,” King told the New York Daily News. “She is setting a great example being her authentic self and she has taken our acceptance of the LGBTQ community to new heights. Arthur would be pleased she is standing up for herself and for so many others.”

And King should know. After all, she was the recipient of the Ashe Award in 1999.

Photo via Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair | Remix by Jason Reed

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*First Published: Jun 3, 2015, 1:26 am CDT