As literally everyone, including the lizard people living on moon, is aware of by now, former olympian Bruce Jenner is now Caitlyn Jenner. What those lizard people may not be aware of, on account of not having Facebook, is the controversy surrounding ESPN’s decision to award Jenner the ESPY for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. You, as an Earthbound creature with social media, have no doubt seen the following meme pop up in your feed, probably captioned with something to the effect of “So I guess this is America now. SMDH”:
I’m thinking this guy chuckles at the idea of a civilian event known as a “Death Race”
There’s only one problem – it’s fake! Well, the notion is fake – there’s no such thing as a runner up for this award, and Snopes discovered that the image originated from jackass radio jockey looking for attention. ESPN has confirmed this multiple times. This discovery, which has already been well-covered by multiple news outlets, hasn’t dissuaded people from expressing their outrage at this perceived “injustice.” Even if you don’t care that there’s no silver medal for courage, here’s why the entire controversy is a bunch of horseshit.
The ESPYs are meaningless
Most of you reading this have probably never heard of the ESPYs, and for good reason – they shouldn’t fucking exist. Award shows are designed to recognize greatness that isn’t otherwise recognized by success – great movies that don’t sell tickets, revolutionary albums that don’t get spins. But athletes, by their nature, receive recognition by virtue of making their living through direct competition. Peyton Manning doesn’t need an award to tell him he’s great when he has virtually every passing record in the book. On the other side of that coin, a statue isn’t much consolation to Giancarlo Stanton when he’s mashing taters for a team that struggles to stay above .500 most of the time.
Instead, what we get is a big circle jerk of athletes masturbating over their own (already recognizable) greatness, in turn encircled by journalists and pundits jerking off to the site of great athletes jerking off (Lookit that Tom Brady go! WHAT A STROKE!). It’s a meaningless pageant, and anyone who gets that worked up about it is an idiot.
People don’t quite understand the award (and it’s arbitrary)
The ESPYs are awards for athletes (or people related to the sporting world, like journalists and broadcasters), and this particular award is for displays of courage. Bruce Jenner, one of America’s greatest olympians and a trailblazer for the concept of “athletes as celebrities” (whether this is a good thing or not is up to you) decided to become a woman, publicly. That is a courageous move by an athlete. On the other side of the controversy, you have Noah Galloway, a man who decided to join the Army (courageous), was injured fighting for his life (and ours) in Iraq (doubly courageous!) and now competes in athletic competitions despite losing half his limbs – courageously, since his other option was to sit around feeling sorry for himself. Bruce Jenner was an athlete who showed courage; Noah Galloway is a courageous man who continues to show courage through athletics. They are both noteworthy, but not exactly the same.
Another name in the conversation (the second runner-up?) is Lauren Hill, a college basketball player who succombed to terminal brain cancer earlier this year. Upon her diagnosis, she decided to keep playing basketball anyway. That’s also courageous! She could have chosen to wither and die, but instead decided, like Galloway, to live her life on her terms despite constant pain. But ultimately, this award is arbitrary and to the discretion of ESPN – in this instance, they chose to go with the great athlete (and obvious ratings grab) who did something courageous, rather than the courageous people who’ve found inspiration in athletics.
The point is, courage comes in different forms. Each of the people in the discussion are undoubtedly sources of hope and inspiration for people like them, not to mention others who can see the courage in their stories. None of this is to say Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner is a saint – Bruce Jenner exploited his fame to then-unheard of levels, lied about who he was to his children and their mothers for decades, allowed his children to be exploited for reality TV fame and fortune, and recently caused a car accident that killed someone. Still, to claim that publicly announcing his transition doesn’t take courage is incredibly obtuse – for proof, consider that countless writers have been compelled to write articles like this one.
But in the end…
The controversy was never about the award
In a vacuum, no one would care that Caitlyn Jenner is receiving this award – again, no one gives a shit about the stupid ESPYs. The vitriol over the perceived slight to theoretically more “deserving” candidates ultimately boils down to a significant faction of Americans saying “Durrrr, I don’t wanna see no FAG get an award on mah sports television.” Remember when Michael Sam, the first openly gay man to be drafted into the NFL, was shown embracing his boyfriend on live TV? Same idea.
But it goes deeper than that. The popularity of the meme points to the fact that most people who feel this way aren’t comfortable saying so. Instead, they’d rather hide their bile behind a campaign for a disabled man. It checks all the right boxes: Patriotism, respect for the military, a sense of justice, etc. It’s a red herring, an attempt to garner support while distracting from the real issue – in other words, it’s textbook smarm. The fact that these people have made a wounded war hero and a teenage cancer patient their unwitting standard bearers makes it all the more disgusting.
As one commenter on Deadspin put it, the same people losing their shit over the award are probably the same people who objected to Arthur Ashe – the great black tennis player who died of AIDS – having an award named for him in the first place.
And really, that’s all that needs to be said.
Edit: An earlier version of this post spoke of Lauren Hill as though she were still alive, which sadly she is not. The post has been updated to correct the error.