When I first heard that NBC sportscaster Bob Costas does not believe Caitlyn Jenner deserves to receive the 2015 Arthur Ashe Award and called the presentation “a crass exploitation play – it’s a tabloid play,” I agreed with him. Caitlyn Jenner has nothing to do with sports; her former self has not been active in sports for years. Why, then, is Caitlyn being given a sports award? Though I doubted Costas’ right to publicly voice an unsolicited opinion about Caitlyn Jenner, it seemed the man hit the nail on the head. Everybody wants to be politically correct; even if Caitlyn does not deserve the award, nobody wants to say so.
Then I checked my ignorance. Admittedly, I am not a sports fan and thus never heard of Bob Costas or the Arthur Ashe Award. How, then, could I agree with a stranger when I didn’t have the knowledge necessary to craft an informed opinion? A little research quickly set me straight. Bob Costas is wrong. Caitlyn Jenner deserves the 2015 Arthur Ashe Award; she’s as qualified as previous recipients.
While the Arthur Ashe Award is one of the most prestigious in sports, involvement in sports is not a definite criteria for the award, which negates my original, ignorant assumption Caitlyn’s lack of participation in professional sports disqualifies her from the award. For those unfamiliar with the man who inspired the award, Arthur Ashe (1943-1993) was an American professional tennis player who won three Grand Slam titles, placing him among the best tennis players from the United States. Ashe was the first African American player selected to the United States Davis Cup team and the only African American to win the singles title at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, or the Australian Open. In the early 1980s, Ashe contracted HIV from a blood transfusion received during heart bypass surgery. Ashe publicly announced his illness and began working to educate others about HIV and AIDS. According to espn.go.com, the Ashe Award recipient “reflects the spirit of Arthur Ashe, possessing strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of peril and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter what the cost.”
In the 1980s, there was a definite stigma attached to HIV and AIDS; Arthur Ashe risked his reputation to represent the HIV community and educate the public. Past recipients of the Ashe award have stood up for human rights in much the same way. The 2014 Ashe award was given to Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted to the NFL. (If Caitlyn Jenner’s award is “exploitation” by ESPN, as Costas claims, why was Michael Sam’s award not similarly viewed as a “tabloid play”?) In 2013, Robin Roberts, a non-sports personality from ABC’s Good Morning America, received the award after battling cancer and undergoing a bone marrow transplant. Patricia Sue “Pat” Summit, a former women’s college basketball head coach who continued to coach despite early onset dementia, received the award in 2012, and in 2011, the award was given to amateur boxer Dewey Bozella, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 26 years. In 2015, former Olympic athlete Caitlyn Jenner will receive the Arthur Ashe Award in recognition of personal courage and positive contribution to the transgender community. I’m okay with that, and if Bob Costas would objectively look at the purpose of the award in question and the list of past winners, he would be, too.
Perhaps the true issue here is not Caitlyn Jenner’s qualifications for the Arthur Ashe Award, but the ignorance of uninformed people (like me!) who rush to judgment without the facts, and the arrogance/hypocrisy of a sportscaster making his own “tabloid play” by publicly calling into a radio show to voice personal objection to Jenner’s award. The key word here is “personal”. Why should the world care what Bob Costas thinks about Caitlyn Jenner’s award? Why should anyone care what I think? The only thing that matters is Caitlyn Jenner meets the qualifications for the Arthur Ashe Award and thereby deserves it.