I like to tell myself that I don’t understand all the vitriol I’ve heard or read since Caitlyn Jenner accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, but that’s not the case. I understand, at best, it’s all ignorance and at worst, it’s good ol’ fashion hate. On one level, I can understand disagreeing with her winning the award. There are so many courageous men and women, who at least have a toe in the sports world. What I can’t grasp, is how people can judge how courageous someone else is, or isn’t.
The fact of the matter is, we have no idea how brave anyone else is. The barista that served you a latte at Starbucks, she may have had to sneak the kids out of the house in the middle of the night to escape an abusive husband. The kid you just walked by in the mall, yeah, the one who had his head buried in his phone and never even looked up as he nearly walked into you. Maybe his mom was just diagnosed with breast cancer, and just getting out of the house took every ounce of courage he had. And I mean no disrespect to those who serve our country, but the fact is, they aren’t all super heroes in uniform. The vast majority have more courage than I can even imagine, but there are also some who just wanted to pull the trigger without legal repercussions. Who knows?
I mention the military, not because I think their courage needs to be questioned. But because that’s become the popular example. “Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t deserve this award, it should go to someone who serves. They’re risking everything for us.” Now, it’s true that they are, but this is an award given out by a sports network to people involved in sports. So there’s that. And furthermore, where was the outrage when Michael Sam won? Why weren’t we demanding that a wounded warrior was more deserving than Robin Roberts? Truth is, if you believe someone from the service deserved the award, by your own logic, the award shouldn’t even be named after Arthur Ashe. He didn’t give a limb in service of this country. Why was he more deserving than the vets who had just served in the Gulf War? He wasn’t. But…and this is important here, he was an athlete and ESPN was (and remains) a network devoted to covering sports. And Ashe faced his tragic death with the courage and grace we should all admire. It was a different time, but that’s the grace and courage that Jenner showed when she risked so much to be true to herself.
You may not agree with how she’s living her life, and you might be one of those who keep calling her “Bruce.” But then you’re the same person who would have kept calling Muhammad Ali, “Clay.” And most importantly, you missed the point of Jenner’s beautiful speech. “I know I’m clear with my responsibility going forward, to tell my story the right way, for me, to keep learning, to reshape the landscape of how trans issues are viewed, how trans people are treated. And then more broadly to promote a very simple idea: accepting people for who they are. Accepting people’s differences.”
I probably shouldn’t even go here, but I just can’t help myself. There’s been a lot of talk that Lauren Hill, the college basketball player who lost her battle to cancer this year, but only after she took the court and touched the lives of millions. I love her story, and it breaks my heart. Driving to work on Tuesday, I heard her parents on the “Mike & Mike Show” on ESPN radio, and I was tearing up in the car. Hill’s fight, and her efforts to spread awareness, took great courage. And I have the up-most respect for her, but…the truth is, her fight was actually a little easier than Jenner’s. More tragic, but a little easier. Hill knew how her story would end. She knew she was going to die, and that it would happen much sooner than it should. But when you already know the outcome, it makes doing the brave thing a little easier. That doesn’t make her struggle and easier, or her loss any less tragic.
Lastly, remember what this is: an award from a network. Getting upset about who they decided to present it to, well that’s really making a big deal about something that isn’t that important. Can you name three past winners? Hell, I named two above, and you probably already forgot their names. So if ESPN giving an award to Caitlyn Jenner upsets you, that’s a you problem. Good luck with that.