Recently, it was revealed that this year’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award—an award concocted by ESPN and given out every year at the ESPY Awards—will be given to Caitlyn Jenner. No one should really be upset by this; nodding to the ideal of equality is a fine use of ESPYs airtime.
Sports broadcaster Bob Costas decided to climb up on his Shetland pony and ride onto the Dan Patrick Show, though, expressing grave disapproval of ESPN’s decision to give its made-up award to Jenner. This is all an “exploitation play,” according to Costas:
I wish Caitlyn all the happiness in the world and all the peace of mind in the world.
However, 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 have found—and this is not anything against Caitlyn Jenner—I’m pretty sure they could have found someone who was much closer to actively involved in sports, who would have been deserving of what that award represents.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t take some measure of personal courage to do what Caitlyn Jenner has done, but I think that ever 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. And I think this is 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.
This is a very strange complaint given the fact that Jenner is one of the most famous athletes in American history. A former Olympic champion who once was as big a deal as, say, Michael Phelps and at one time had a legitimate claim to being the finest athlete alive publicly coming out as transgender—an act which takes more than “some measure of personal courage”—is a very big sports story. In fact, Jenner seems like exactly the kind of person who should be receiving this award, which has previously been given to people with far more tenuous connections to the world of sports. So what gives, Bob? Can you expound on your qualms a little bit?
It feels like “let’s buy into the Keeping Up With The Kardashians culture” that has overtaken a good part of the cultural landscape. That’s a train that’s left the station, and you and I can’t slow it down no matter how we feel about it.
There it is.
As you probably know, Jenner is a member of the Kardashian clan, a family that is mostly famous for producing daughters with big butts and starring in a frivolous reality show. To a certain segment of the American public, they are some kind of symbol for everything that is wrong with our culture today, because of selfies and sex tapes and something something grumble grumble.
Which, fine! Maybe they are! People can hate the Kardashians and reality TV all they want. It’s still more than a little strange that Costas and Patrick seem to think that their mere existence and association with Jenner means there is something crass and exploitative about giving a retired athlete an ESPY award for doing a very brave thing in public. Costas’s complaint says a lot more about the narrow scope through which he insists on grumpily viewing the world than it does about The Media or ESPN or These Modern Times. One of the most famous athletes of the 20th century publicly transitioning is a big and important sports story, full stop.