So I know all the news and rage hit a peak a little over a week ago regarding Caitlyn Jenner winning the Arthur Ashe Courage ESPY and I’m a little late to the party in giving my two cents. Oh well…
As most of you probably know by now, there was a decent amount of outrage that Caitlyn Jenner – former Decathlon Champion Bruce Jenner who publicly transitioned to a woman in the face of hate and ignorance – won this award over the “runner-up” Noah Galloway – a double amputee war vet – and Lauren Hill – a young girl who despite being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, achieved her goal of playing college basketball all while raising money for cancer research. And as some of you may have seen, there is no such thing as a runner up for this award and the hate and outrage that ensued was all the product of unfounded internet rumors. However, since hate speech and anger are often louder voices than reason, there’s little doubt in my mind that many a Facebooker would still blast ESPN’s decision to honor Jenner with this award.
Now this piece is not to justify the awarding of Jenner or to campaign for a different recipient. It is more to point out two assumptions that people are operating under in this situation.
The first assumption is that bravery can be objectively quantified, measured, and compared across different individuals taking on different monumental challenges. It can’t. Each person dealt with a supremely different scenario with a considerable amount of bravery:
- Jenner had been living with his secret for years. He was afraid to reveal his feelings to his own children. Chew on that for a second: because of the societal feelings on the LGBT lifestyle, a man was afraid to tell his own flesh and blood how he identified. Jenner had thoughts of suicide before finally revealing to the world that he would transition to Caitlyn. Bomani Jones put it perfectly for those who questioned Jenner’s courage. Now consider youth suicide statistics. It is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24. LGBT individuals are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. Seeing a famous decathlete tell his / her (I honestly don’t mean to offend; I’m just unsure of the pronoun usage when referring to an interview Jenner gave as Bruce) story and then being awarded for such a feat can only do good. Jenner is deserving of a courage award.
- Noah Galloway is an American soldier who lost his left arm and left leg in 2005 while serving in Iraq. After rehabilitation, he went on to become a motivational speaker, a personal trainer (!), compete in a variety of races, and compete on Dancing with the Stars. On top of all of this, he started the No Excuses Charitable Fund which assists organizations near and dear to him as well as programs at his local YMCA. This man overcame enormous adversity only to continue to help and inspire people. Galloway is deserving of a courage award.
- Lauren Hill’s story was one that captured the nation’s heart. After deciding to play college basketball at Mount St. Joseph’s in Cincinnati, Ohio, she began experiencing dizzy spells while still in high school. Tests conducted found a tumor that did not respond to treatment. That didn’t stop her from persevering and appearing in four games for Mount St. Joe’s. At one point, she had to shoot with her non-dominant hand due to the tumor’s effect on the body. The tumor caused her to be sensitive to light and prohibited her from walking at times. But she continued to be involved with the team and even raised 1.5 million dollars for cancer research. Sadly, she died on April 10, 2015 at the age of 19. Her perseverance and bravery in the face of death are truly inspirational. Hill is deserving of a courage award.
All three of these stories represent incredible human beings. Each of them deserves more recognition than one award could possibly offer. Each of them took on completely different challenges, faced them with bravery, and inspired others along the way. Not all three served overseas. Not all three faced a deadly disease. Not all three faced the potential hate and shaming of the public. There is no way to accurately compare and measure the bravery each faced. We could make arguments for each of these candidates winning an ESPY but there’s no way anyone could argue that any of these candidates are not courageous individuals.
The second assumption is that an ESPY actually matters. It doesn’t. In the hierarchy of useless awards, it is by far the most useless. Winning an ESPY is kind of like not winning an ESPY. No one really cares. Rather than Hollywood getting together to pat itself on the back with an Oscar, it’s the WORLDWIDE LEADER IN SPORTS getting together to pat itself (and athletes) on the back for being part of their club. I hate all awards shows as much as anyone could hate awards shows. I love sports. I’ve watched my fair share of Academy Awards. I’ve never once watched one second of the ESPY’s.
While I’m sure each of the candidates and families of described above would appreciate the recognition and use it as a chance to campaign for their message and / or foundation, I can’t imagine Lauren Hill’s parents or Noah Galloway losing sleep over the “snub.” I’m fairly certain those making such a stink over this care more than they do. There are far more important things than winning an ESPY like a server remembering that you didn’t want mayo on your sandwich at lunch.
So please, rather than trying to understand the rationale behind this ESPY award, accept that Caitlyn Jenner is indeed a brave individual. Accept that Noah Galloway is also a brave individual. Accept that Lauren Hill was a brave individual. Celebrate the fact that this added attention to Galloway and Hill can only help their foundations. Celebrate that Caitlyn Jenner taking home the ESPY may serve as a beacon of hope to frightened and depressed LGBT youth. But most of all, remember that the ESPY’s are just kind of stupid in general.