There was immediate speculation that Jenner had nosed out other worthy recipients, among other criticisms of the choice. Noah Galloway, who lost most of his left arm and leg as a soldier in Iraq, then went on to become a distance runner, personal trainer, motivational speaker and, recently, a third-place finisher on “Dancing With the Stars” and the late Lauren Hill, who became an inspirational story as she battled cancer and accomplished her dream of playing college basketball.
Maura Mandt, whose company produces the ESPYs show, explained the selection process to SI.com’s Richard Deitsch, saying that there were no runners-up.
“There are no finalists or people that vote on it. That has never been the case,” Mandt said. “That was something that was completely not true, which I know was out in the media.” From Deitsch:
Mandt said that while Jenner was kept around as a possible candidate if there was some sort of announcement, the research continued on other stories last winter. She said that the ESPY staff found about Jenner’s decision when everyone else did – the Diane Sawyer interview in April. Mandt said that’s when additional vetting started for a potential award to Jenner.
Mandt’s company, MaggieVision Productions, took its recommendation then to ESPN. Delivering during a ratings-challenged month wasn’t part of the consideration.
“I have spent 20 years working on this show and I take it very seriously,” Mandt said. “It is very rare you get to tell a story that hopefully affects people and moves people and has meaning and makes a difference. At the same time if it attracts people from seeing it? We are not going to run away from that. Every person who has a cause needs a platform.”
The choice of Jenner drew immediate criticism. Among others, Bob Costas ripped the selection, telling “The Dan Patrick Show” that it was “just a crass exploitation play, a tabloid play. In the broad world of sports — and this is not anything against Caitlyn Jenner — I am pretty sure they could have found someone who was much closer to actively [being] involved in sports who would have been deserving of what that award represents.”
Whether the choice was ratings-driven or not is debatable, but Jenner does figure to be an articulate advocate for the LGBT community. She’ll get the chance to make a powerful statement Wednesday night, but her acceptance speech will likely be the extent of her appearance. She won’t tread the red carpet, nor will she speak with reporters after receiving the award, the New York Daily News reports. Jenner won’t be doing an ESPN interview, either. She’ll save her comments for her reality show, which debuts July 24 on the E! network.