Add the voice of Bob Costas to the chorus of critics questioning ESPN’s decision to present Caitlyn Jenner with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the network’s ESPYs show next month.
“It strikes me that awarding the Arthur Ashe Award to Caitlyn Jenner is just a crass exploitation play — it’s a tabloid play,” the NBC anchor said Monday on “The Dan Patrick Show.” “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.”
ESPN announced that Jenner, who won Olympic gold in the 1976 decathlon as Bruce Jenner, would receive the award just hours after she announced her new name and appearance in a Vanity Fair cover story. Critics of the decision cited Noah Galloway and the late Lauren Hill as better options.
Of course, the ESPYs aren’t the Nobel prizes. The show is an ESPN creation that helps bring eyeballs to TVs on one of the dullest days on the sports calendar. This year, the awards will be presented July 15, the day after baseball’s All-Star Game, in a program that has morphed into a Hollywood production complete with red carpet. Plenty of worthy people, like Pat Summitt, Michael Sam and Robin Roberts, have been chosen to receive the award, but let’s not kid ourselves that, unlike the Nobel committee, the network doesn’t consider the impact on ratings.
“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,” Costas said in a call to the sports show. “I think this is just a play to pump up [the] 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.”
ESPN explained its choice of Jenner in a statement from Maura Mandt, the ESPYs’ producer:
“Bruce 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. 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.”