Caitlyn Jenner, accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage Award tonight at ESPN’s annual ESPYs ceremony, addressed head on the controversy about the decision to give her this year’s award. NBC Sports broadcaster Bob Costas is among those who have suggested others are more deserving of the courage award and that giving it at this time to Jenner is “just a crass exploitation play, a tabloid play.” Meanwhile, ABC, which broadcast tonight’s ceremony, and ESPY producers have spent time in the days leading up to tonight denying reports of a deal in which Jenner got the prestigious courage award as a perk for giving her highly rated interview to Diane Sawyer on ABC in April.
“It is an honor to have the word ‘courage’ associated with my life, but this night another word comes to mind: ‘fortunate’,” Jenner said. “I owe a lot to sports. It has shown me the world. It’s given me an identity” and enabled her to withstand criticism and attacks. “The same thing goes tonight; if you want to call me names, doubt my intention, the reality is, I can take it. But for thousands of kids out there coming to term with who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it … So for the people out there wondering what this is all about, whether it’s about courage or controversy or publicity, I’ll tell you what it’s all about: It’s about what happens from here. It’s not about one person, it’s about thousands of people. It’s not just about me. It’s about all of us accepting one another. We’re all different and that’s not a bad thing — it’s a good thing. ”
This year’s ESPYs, which honor the years top sports moments, is sure to be its most watched ever, having been moved this year to the broadcast network that landed Jenner’s late April interview with Sawyer in which the the former Olympic decathlon gold medalist made international headlines announcing she was transitioning.
Jenner tonight accepted the award from soccer player Abby Wambach, who like Jenner is a former Olympics gold medalist. Wambach also, like Jenner, recently made big news when, as a member of the U.S. women’s soccer team won the World Cup this month, she celebrated the win by rushing over and kissing her wife.
Early last month, Jenner announced her new name would be Caitlyn in her much anticipated Vanity Fair cover. Within hours, ABC made the well-orchestrated announcement Jenner would be honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, named for the tennis player who died in ’93.
Making that announcement, ABC noted that nearly 40 years ago, Jenner, who then still went by the first name of Bruce and identified using masculine pronouns, was considered by some to be one of the greatest Olympians of our time, which the network said “came as a result of strengthening both his mind and body leading to his status as one of the world’s greatest athletes. But the decision to publicly come out as a transgender woman took a different kind of courage and acceptance of one’s self.” The ESPYs Courage Award, the network said, is presented annually to individuals “whose contributions transcend sports.”
ABC News had landed that Jenner interview after a heated battle in which many prognosticators put their money on NBC News grabbing the “get,” given that E! is a network of NBCUniversal. On the bright side for NBCU, this will be the most watched ESPY Awards ever – which, in turn, will probably goose opening night numbers for the E! reality series, I Am Cait, which is scheduled to premiere in less than two weeks.