The Arthur Ashe Award is named after former tennis great Arthur Ashe. In 1992 Ashe contracted HIV from a blood transfusion needed while in a heart bypass surgery. After discovering he had the condition, he started working to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS. He founded the organization Arthur Ashe Endowment for Defeat of AIDS, which is connected to the Arthur Ashe Learning Center, and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health. These three organizations work tirelessly to this day to help kids and adults alike to learn about the dangers of HIV and AIDS. They also help families that have been inflicted by the disease. Ashe passed away while battling a case of pneumonia on February 6th 1993. It was shortly thereafter that the ESPYs (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Awards) were formed. One of the very first awards that was created was the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. The award has been presented 23 times since 1993 to some notable names such as Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela, Billie Jean King, and most recently before Caitlyn Jenner, openly gay football player Michael Sam.
Let me start off by congratulating Caitlyn Jenner for winning the Arthur Ashe Award for courage. I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for her. When she came out and announced that she would be undergoing a sex change surgery, it was incredibly courageous and hard but undoubtedly gratifying for her to finally feel comfortable in her own skin. I can’t imagine how tough it was to live so long knowing that the body she was born in was not who she was. She definitely deserved to be a nominee for this prestigious award. But with most awards, there will always be cases for who should have won and who shouldn’t have won. This article will cover the other nominees , but in the end Caitlyn won for her bravery and courage. It was ultimately the right decision, but let’s find out more about the other two nominees: Noah Galloway and Lauren Hill.
Noah Galloway is a former American soldier. During his deployment in Iraq in 2005, Galloway was severely injured by an IED attack. As a result of the attack, he lost his left forearm and his left leg just above his knee. He also suffered a broken jaw and an injured right leg. He would have to use prosthetics for his left arm and leg to be able to live comfortably. But what’s simply amazing is that he didn’t stop at just living comfortably. He is now a personal trainer for fitness and he regularly competes in 5K and 10K races with his prosthetic leg. He runs in a series of races and marathons, including Tough Mudders, Crossfit races, and Spartan events. His determination to keep going despite having not one, but two limbs taken away from him is inspiring. He is also a motivational speaker on top of it all. He helps children, adults, and veterans to overcome what he did and teaches them to live by his mantra “no excuses”. For his service to the States, his injury, his athletic lifestyle with prosthetics, his work within the community, and his dedication to helping, Noah definitely deserved a nomination for this award.
Imagine just turning 18, having your whole life ahead of you, fresh out of high school and having so many dreams and hopes, one of them being to play on the basketball team for Mount St. Joseph’s College, located in Cincinnati, Ohio. Then a visit to an oncologist and neurologist turns those dreams and hopes into prayers and despair. This was the case for Lauren Hill. Just a month or so after turning 18, Hill found out she had Diffuse Instrinsic Pontine Glioma, or DIPG. This condition is a brain tumor within the brain and is inoperable. As previously mentioned, it was Lauren’s wish to play basketball for Mount St. Joseph college but due to her illness, it was unknown if she would have lived to see that dream fulfilled. But with some coordinating between St Joseph, Hiram College, and the NCAA, the first game of the basketball season was moved up two weeks to allow her participation in a game. The game was held at the Cintas Center at Xavier College in Cincinnati. She played in four games and completed five layups. The first game she played in raised 40,000 dollars for her nonprofit organization, The Cure Starts Now Foundation. Overall her organization has raised over 1.5 million dollars to date for pediatric cancer research. She stopped playing after her fourth game but stayed on with the team as an assistant coach until her death. She passed on April 10th 2015. Her dedication to playing basketball and her selfless fundraising to further research on cancer in children have made her a notable candidate for the award. She has been honoured through many campuses in college around America, through foundations, and hospitals. The Indiana Basketball of Fame honoured fittingly her with a brick engraved with her name and below it “Hero”. While Lauren didn’t win the Arthur Ashe Award, she did win the 2015 Best Moment. Her parents accepted the award on her behalf in a tear jerker of a acceptance. Her story was truly touching and sad.
My vote for this award would have went to Noah. I may be biased with this decision, because like him I am an amputee. I understand the challenge of overcoming this hurdle. I know how some activities are limited when becoming an amputee. But Noah has surpassed those limits. He can do everything an active man can do and more. He has shown millions of amputees, myself included, around the world that limits do not exist when losing a limb, or limbs. He has shown there is hope, that there is a normal life to be had after this seemingly life changing surgery. His two tours in Iraq, his determination to be active, his motivational speaking, his lifestyle scream courage and shows that he hasn’t and won’t back down in the face of adversity.
This isn’t to say Caitlyn Jenner didn’t deserve the Arthur Ashe Award. She 100% deserved to win, just as much as the other two nominees. Her story is a great one and it’s going to have an impact on society, both sports and non-sports, for years to come. With same sex marriage being deemed legal in June 2015, and now Jenner coming out as a transgender, this will give many people the courage and bravery to be themselves, to not be afraid of being bullied or shunned from the world. While 100% of the world will never be accepting of something different than themselves, this is a huge win for the LGBT community and beyond. It’s inspiring and should only go up from here.
The past few years in the sports has already seen drastic changes in shutting the door on homophobia. In 2012, You Can Play was created and already the NHL, MLS, NBA, AHL, OHL, CWHL, NLL, NWSL all have teams that support the organization and it is rapidly growing. In 2014, Michael Sam became the first NFL drafted player to be openly gay, as a result he won the 2014 Arthur Ashe Award.
This is the start of something beautiful within sports. Some internet trolls may say Caitlyn isn’t involved in sports, but many conveniently omit that she won a Gold Medal for Men’s Decathlon in the 1976 Olympics, held in Montreal, Canada, while also owning a Gold Medal in Decathlon in the 1975 Pan Am Games in Mexico City, Mexico. So yes, she was involved in sports but whether or not she was is irrelevant, as quoted in the mandate for winning this award “for contributions that transcends sports”. There have been past winners who had absolutely no involvement in sports at all, while some were retired like Caitlyn, or some were still playing their respective sports.
For the people who felt the need to attack her because of her choice, I challenge you to spend 64 years as something you are not, to be afraid of being yourself, to know the body that you are in is not the one you were meant to be in, to be petrified of what your family may think of you after this. This was not a publicity grab, this was not a claim to fame. This was an individual who was not happy as herself and finally worked up the courage to make the change and rather than be attacked, she should be congratulated for her life change. We can only hope that this will inspire more within the LGBT community to be public about their orientation and lifestyle.