Critics are lining up to trash-talk the ESPYS, an award show created by the Disney-owned television sports empire ESPN, because of last week’s decision to recognize Caitlyn Jenner for “courage personified.”
"Bruce [Jenner] has received many accolades over the years for being one of the greatest Olympians of our time, but the ESPYS are honored to celebrate Bruce becoming Caitlyn," said ESPN executive producer Maura Mandt, in a statement on the ESPYS website. "She has shown the courage to embrace a truth that had been hidden for years, and to embark on a journey that may not only give comfort to those facing similar circumstances, but can also help to educate people on the challenges that the transgender community faces."
But NBC sports anchor Bob Costas begged to differ during a June 9 interview with radio host Dan Patrick:
“It strikes me that awarding the Arthur Ashe Award to Caitlyn Jenner is just a crass exploitation play — it’s a tabloid play. In the broad world of sports, I’m pretty sure they could’ve found someone — and this is not anything against Caitlyn Jenner — who was much closer actively involved in sports, who would’ve been deserving of what that award represents. That’s not to say it doesn’t take some measure of person courage [sic] to do what Caitlyn Jenner has done.”
ESPN told Fox News “there is no such thing as a runner-up.” Although the network would not name who else was considered, critics and fans have called on ESPN to instead posthumously honor Lauren Hill, a college basketball player who died from brain cancer at the age of 19.
The late Hill's coach at Mount St. Joseph University women’s basketball team, Dan Benjamin, told Fox his vote definitely would have been for Hill. “I can only speak for the journey I went on with Lauren. I cannot speak to anyone else’s. Of course, I want Lauren to get the award,” said Benjamin.
Another potential, and by some accounts more suitable candidate, mentioned in hundreds of irate tweets, is Iraq veteran Noah Galloway, who lost most of an arm and a leg in combat. Galloway still competes in extreme sports and almost won this season’s Dancing With the Stars.
Talk of the ESPYS choice prompted Bristol Palin, daughter of the failed vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, to blog:
"Here’s the thing. Caitliyn [sic] Jenner looks great! I don’t care what people do… honestly I have gay friends, but it drives me crazy that people like Noah don’t get recognized for sacrificing their LIFE for our country, while being gay/transgender makes you a hero."
According to Costas, ESPN could’ve found an athlete who “more closely fit the description” of what the network was looking for in the winner of an award named for Arthur Ashe, the legendary tennis player who died of AIDS in 1993.
Past recipients include Muhammed Ali, Billie Jean King, and out football player Michael Sam.
“I think every year we look across the landscape of sports and we find prominent people and kids in high school and amateur athletes who I think more closely fit the description of what they’re looking for, or should be looking for there," said Costas. "I think this is just a play to pump up audience. The way lots of things are put on television to attract eyeballs, not because of the validity, but because of whatever the kind of gawker factor is.”
Despite saying Jenner was undeserving, Costas said he wished Jenner well and believed her transition showed we are “moving toward a more tolerant society.”