Arthur Ashe Award and Internet hysteria…

So last week at the ESPYS Caitlyn Jenner was awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. Whilst the audience sat and nodded and clapped as Jenner gave her acceptance speech the Internet blazed alight with freak outs from keyboard critics everywhere. There were people excited and thrilled that transgender issues were being highlighted in an industry that is still very much struggling with anything relevant to gender and sexuality. The sporting world continues to be shocked when a rare athlete reveals that they are anything but heterosexual. In most cases the “outing” occurs long after the athlete has retired especially if they are male. If they do risk revealing their sexuality they are guaranteed that who they like to sleep with is the only thing the press will be interested in regardless of their sporting prowess.

Michael Sam

Michael Sam made headlines for being a gay NFL draftee…

It wasn’t long before the outrage of Jenner’s award became a trending topic online, with comments flying everywhere but mostly from the right. Remarks were made about how gender reassignment surgery doesn’t equal courage, and how surely those who get shot at in war zones are more deserving. In fact these comments were so frequent it led to one soldier sending a big can of STFU to all the reactionaries. The negative reactions from people online gave readers an interesting look into how much people struggle to identify with what is considered as courage, and how quickly history is forgotten.

Recent Arthur Ashe Award Recipients – VIDEO

The Arthur Ashe has often been awarded to those who push the boundaries of society, especially the boundaries of those who find comfort staying in their tight little conforming world. It is also worth noting that often there has been an underlying political angle or a response to societal norms and challenges through the awarding of the Arthur Ashe, which is no more different than the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscars. So why was this award for Jenner so particularly polarising? Let’s remember that Jenner isn’t the first recipient to be noted for their role in sexuality equality, after all Billie Jean King was awarded the Ashe in 1999 for her continued representation and fight for sexual equality. Michael Sam the first openly gay NFL draftee/player was also awarded the Ashe in 2014. So how is it that the ESPYS are so confidently nominating and awarding athletes who represent team rainbow yet the sporting industry as a whole is still eons behind in providing an environment where athletes can feel safe to be themselves?

Part of Jenner’s acceptance speech at the 2015 ESPYS

It’s possible that people felt the timing of this award coincided just a little too close with the up and coming new TV show for Caitlyn Jenner and the tinge of cross promotion was just a little much. It’s also possible that for many watching the ESPYS that they weren’t ready to be challenged over the fact that transgender issues are serious enough to warrant us as a society to sit up and take note. The harsh reality of high suicide rates and crimes against transgender people is not only confronting but shameful. With so many outspoken groups and individuals out there in the mainstream media touting the evils of being transgender, it’s arguably more important than ever for people like Caitlyn Jenner, Chaz Bono and Laverne Cox to step out and show those who are battling with gender identity that they matter. That they too deserve the humanity that is afforded to everyone else.


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