WASHINGTON, July 16, 2015 – In its entry on the ESPN network’s annual Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly (ESPY) awards, Wikipedia describes the event as
“an accolade presented by the American cable television network ESPN to recognize individual and team athletic achievement and other sports-related performance during the calendar year preceding a given annual ceremony.”
The original idea behind the ESPY awards seems to have been a good one: providing special honors for noteworthy sports achievements and heroism, conjuring up memories of memorable sports moments like Willie Mays’ heroic, World Series-winning 1954 catch, of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team’s gold medal-winning “Miracle on Ice” at Lake Placid, New York.
Sadly, in one cheap, shabby gesture Wednesday evening, ESPN forever devalued the special meaning of its annual awards, shamefully abusing both the man and the meaning behind ESPY’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award by handing that 2015 honor to former Olympic swimming star Bruce “Caitlyn” Jenner.
Here’s how one article breathlessly described Jenner’s part in the event, televised on ABC:
“Woman of the hour! Caitlyn Jenner accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2015 ESPYS held at the Microsoft Theater in L.A. on Wednesday, July 15, where she had her very own cheering section filled with members of the Kardashian and Jenner families.”
Jenner was accorded the honor not for his accomplishments in sports, but for his alleged “courage” in coming out, at age 65, as a transgendered female, copping a sexy, Photoshopped “Vanity Fair” cover photo and a brand new, likely very lucrative “reality” series on E! TV, all as a consequence of his “heroism.”
The ESPY Arthur Ashe award was established to honor Arthur Ashe, Jr. (1943-1993). The Richmond, Virginia native became a star tennis player, notably breaking that sport’s subtle color barrier to become an internationally renowned World No. 1-ranked tennis champion in the 1970s before retiring in 1980.
Ashe became the first black tennis player chosen to play on the U.S. Davis Cup team. He also became the only black male to win prestigious singles titles at the Australian and U.S. Open tournaments as well as at the U.K.’s Wimbledon tourney.
Tragically, Ashe eventually succumbed to complications from AIDS. He had apparently contracted the malady not from indulging in poor lifestyle choices but apparently from a tainted blood transfusion made during emergency quadruple bypass surgery, which he underwent first in 1979 and again in 1983. This was a time when AIDS was only just surfacing as a health issue and when screening donated blood for the virus had not become a standard medical procedure.
Gracious in life as he was in death, Arthur Ashe was a proven winner, one of the great American tennis players, a fine human being, and an athlete who inspired others to excel. In breaking the race barrier in tennis he paved the way for others, perhaps most notably, the Williams sisters. And in death, he demonstrated how to die with dignity and without outrage or complaint, given the incredibly unfortunate nature of his passing.
So the question that arises is a simple one: What in the hell was ESPN thinking when it chose to give the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to Bruce “Caitlyn” Jenner?
The answer, it would seem, is pretty simple. ESPN was looking for the kind of ratings boost that only an inappropriate and outrageous PR stunt like this could provide. By announcing Jenner as the winner, it guaranteed a substantial audience for this garish spectacle, allowing the network and Jenner to wallow in a disgustingly bathetic display of phony, politically correct, simulated virtue.
Like the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the newly sworn-in U.S. President Barack Obama − who didn’t have (and doesn’t have) a single genuine “piece credential” to his name − the granting of the Ashe award to Jenner not only allowed ESPN bask in politically correct glory in an entertainment genre hitherto reserved for the achievements of tough women and manly men. It also provided Jenner with another heaping helping of unearned publicity for his upcoming transgender-centric “reality” show set to run this fall on cable channel E!
In other words, ESPN was telling its regular, predominantly male audience in no uncertain terms that it’s not all about sports, nor is it all about sports fans, either. Instead, it’s all about who or what to exploit next in order to win the ratings wars Caucus Race. Both the 2015 Ashe award and the televised ceremony surrounding it, in short, amounted incredible diminution of hard-working champion athletes everywhere as well as the avid sports fans who follow their exploits on ESPN.
Neither the athletes nor the vast majority of sports fans who subscribe to ESPN cotton to being told how to think and feel in the increasingly unreal world they inhabit, in which real heroes are saps and chumps while self-indulgent exhibitionists are lauded for exhibiting peculiarly bizarre behaviors re-defined as “courage.”
But that’s what sports fans got Wednesday evening. ABC gave it to them good and hard, including Jenner’s weepy, maudlin and genuinely disgusting acceptance speech whose punchlines were egged on by that bussed-in Kardashian/Jenner family cheering section, all of them conspicuous by their ratings-grabbing presence and notorious for their complete lack of real accomplishments.
The whole bizarre scenario reminded us of a line from “Nightwood,” a strangely haunting and prescient novel penned by nearly-forgotten Roaring ‘20s lesbian novelist Djuna Barnes. She memorably described a garish entourage of circus misfits as “gaudy, cheap cuts from the beast life, immensely capable of that great disquiet called entertainment.” Djuna, how could you have known?
While the preening PC police present either at the event or reveling in its deliciousness on TV all basked in the glorious appearance of virtue, not everyone was thrilled by this mawkish, blubbering tableaux: a Fellini-like vignette far more appropriate for “Oprah,” “The View,” or the old “Jerry Springer Show” than it was for a sports network’s coveted honors.
Among the award’s detractors was NBC Sports broadcast personality Bob Costas, who was quoted as calling the ceremony “just a crass exploitation play, a tabloid play,” and suggesting the painfully obvious, namely that any number of other athletes were vastly more deserving of an award for courage.
More disturbing still was this critical snippet from Deadline/Hollywood:
“…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.
Lashing out at the award and the ceremony as well was a talent manager named Jessica Steindorff, “who attended Wednesday, July 15’s awards ceremony as a guest…”
According to “US” magazine, Steindorff was infuriated by ESPN’s and Jenner’s perceived insensitivity with regard to a notorious “vehicle accident happened in February of this year. Jenner was one of the drivers involved in the multi-car pileup on Malibu’s Pacific Coast Highway, that tragically resulted in fellow driver Kim Howe’s death.”
“Steindorff, whose car was also involved, told [ET] that the positive focus on Jenner’s transition from male to female, and lack of attention on the car accident is something she can’t come to terms with, and she “slammed the continual positive attention the former Olympian is receiving, urging the reality TV star to take responsibility for the crash and “do the right thing,” continuing
“I find it difficult to understand how the culture we live in can honor a person who is responsible for taking a life and injuring several others with both an award and a reality show….For an individual who is such a positive role model in many aspects of her life, Caitlyn has failed to do the right thing and take responsibility for her actions…. Sadly we are living in a tabloid society.”
Notwithstanding, Jenner, ESPN, ABC et. al. ended up with the last laugh, according to US:
“With help from Caitlyn Jenner, ESPN scored Wednesday night with the 2015 ESPY Awards. Based on Nielsen overnights, the 2015 ESPY Awards averaged 6.0 in meter market ratings from 8-11 PM, up +253% from last year’s telecast on ESPN (1.7), ranking as the highest overnight for the ESPYs on ESPN networks. The show peaked from 10:30-10:45 PM with a 6.9 metered market rating during Caitlyn Jenner’s Arthur Ashe Award acceptance speech.”
So, how’d you like that last play, sports fans?