Like the proverbial macular-degenerative squirrel, NBC sportscaster Bob Costas occasionally stumbles into a bit of sense — most recently on Monday’s The Dan Patrick Show, when, during the course of an eleven-minute interview, Costas (beginning eight minutes in) offered a sharp word about ESPN’s decision to give this year’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award to Bruce “Caitlyn” Jenner:[youtube]https://youtu.be/e_5eywr26k0[/youtube]
It strikes me that awarding the Arthur Ashe award to Caitlyn Jenner is just a crass exploitation play. It’s a tabloid play. In the broad world of sports, I’m pretty sure they could have found — and this is not anything against Caitlyn Jenner — I’m pretty sure they could have found someone who was much closer to actively involved in sports, who would have been deserving of what that award represents.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t take some measure of personal courage to do what Caitlyn Jenner has done, but I think that 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. And I think this is a play to pump up 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.
It’s worth noting, as does Allahpundit at HotAir, that those comments — which, keep in mind, were not at all about Jenner — were preceded by 30 seconds of apology, beginning with an outright plea to listeners: “I’m hoping not to be misunderstood.”
Bruce Jenner, who I did not know well, I always had a cordial and pleasant relationship with. I wish Caitlyn Jenner well, and anyone — even if most of us do not fully understand it — anyone seeking to find the identity they’re comfortable with and to live the happiest possible life without intentionally hurting anyone else — I think we’re moving toward a more tolerant society, and that’s all for the good, and I wish Caitlyn all the happiness in the world and all the peace of mind in the world.
That praise was not sufficient for sports site Deadspin, which rebuked Costas on the grounds that “one of the most famous athletes of the 20th century publicly transitioning is a big and important sports story, full stop.”
Maybe so. But being a “big story” and a story of courage are hardly synonymous. As my colleague David French observed, there were plenty of candidates well suited to this year’s award. Why choose Jenner over Noah Galloway or Lauren Hill?
To that criticism Matt Yoder, writing at AwfulAnnouncing.com, retorts: “Who gets to be the arbiter of who is more or less courageous than someone else? Who can raise their hand to tell us how we should quantify courage or who is more deserving of someone else in that department?”
Unintentionally, Yoder has put his finger on the problem not with Costas’s comment, but with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award: What constitutes courage in the “broad world of sports”?
Like Nobel Peace Prize laureates, the winners of the Arthur Ashe trophy are a mixed bag: The 1996 prize went to Loretta Claiborne, a gold-medal-winning Special Olympics athlete who has completed 26 marathons; the 2005 award was shared by Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, a disabled Ghanaian triathlete who, in 2001, bicycled 400 miles across his native country to highlight the plight of Ghana’s disabled, and Jim MacLaren, who during the 1993 Orange County Triathlon was struck by a van and rendered quadriplegic — this after having lost his left leg below the knee eight years earlier; and the 2007 award went to Trevor Ringland and David Cullen for their work, through PeacePlayers International, using basketball to help resolve sectarian conflicts in Northern Ireland.
But ESPN has also catered to progressive political causes: Last year’s award went to openly gay NFL player Michael Sam, a brief cause célèbre on the left.