If you have been around any kind of media recently, you’ve probably heard about how Caitlyn Jenner just won ESPY’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award. The award is given to someone in society who has impacted the world in a way that “transcends sports.” While the prize is often given to top athletes, it isn’t always.
From the very first moment Caitlyn’s name was suggested for the award, a not-insignificant segment of the population expressed their unhappiness about it. And with the actual announcement of the award, surprise surprise, quite a few people remain unhappy.
And yeah, I know, if you want to find a group of people who are #outraged or #indignant about anything, you never have to look further than the nearest social media site, but on this issue people seem particularly irked. Why?
One segment of the population, while claiming to have no ill-will toward Caitlyn, feel that there were more worthy candidates for the award. Many of them honorably point to the courageous Lauren Hill and Stuart Scott.
The first thing to mention is that it is incredibly difficult to have a discussion about who is the most courageous. Heroism is not something that is easily measured, and our world is surely filled with “everyday” heroes who make their corners of society irrevocably better, but will never receive awards or fame of any kind. The fact that we have multiple heroic, courageous, candidates for this award is not a vice. Rather, it is a side effect of a world that, despite all appearances at times, is filled with a shit ton of good.
Another group of people insist that Caitlyn shouldn’t have gotten the award because her bravery has “nothing to do with sports.” A second variation of this argument is that “Bruce” was the athlete, and now that she is “Caitlyn,” she should be disqualified from the award.
This view is fundamentally flawed because — as we established at the very beginning of this article — the award is not exclusively meant for contributions relating to sports. Interestingly enough, this award has been given to numerous non-athletes in the past for their incredibly brave contributions, but people only seem to rise with complaint now that it is a transgender individual being recognized.
But even if the award were just for “athletic contributions” (whatever that’s supposed to mean), I think Caitlyn is still an extremely viable candidate. While our kids shouldn’t necessarily be looking toward our athletes as role models — they do. Our children buy posters with the images of players who don’t always set the best examples. Caitlyn transcends those folks, and sets a model for the next generation to look toward. She demonstrates that sportsmanship and integrity go beyond the field, and that you should never have to choose between being authentic to yourself and being accepted by society.
Finally, there are those who trivialize Caitlyn’s accomplishments completely. They don’t understand why her life is “courageous” and protest the applause she has gotten for bringing transgender issues front-and-center.
These people are just totally lost. There’s not much more I can say without being unhelpfully aggressive, so I won’t. Except to say that people had many of the same views regarding gays not too terribly long ago. So it might be helpful to remember that opinions do change, and just because someone has lousy opinions does not mean they have a lousy heart. They could just be ignorant (and I don’t mean that as an insult, I mean that precisely as the word defines: uneducated).
Caitlyn Jenner deserved the ESPY award because courage is taking one step forward in a quest toward achieving greater justice. Courage is being yourself and telling a generation of children that it is okay to do the same. Being yourself isn’t easy. In a world where transgender kids face far more bullying than their peers, and consider suicide far more often, being yourself can be hard. Caitlyn is now a role model for those transgender persons who are uncertain about their identity, and are looking for someone to show them that life is always always worth living, and living authentically.
The difference that Caitlyn will make by doing precisely that simply cannot be quantified.
Watch Caitlyn’s acceptance speech here: