I’ll be honest with you, I had never watched the ESPYs until last night. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, the ESPYs are an awards show that ESPN hosts once a year. Kind of like the Grammys or Oscars if you will. But for athletes. I’ve always been a huge sports fan but I guess I just never sat down to give it a chance. Well luckily my husband was all over it and reminded me that it was on last night. And then I remembered that Caitlyn Jenner was going to be given an award for courage, an award that a special athlete receives every year. I couldn’t wait to see her and acknowledge the steps she’s made for the transgender community, and watch her be comfortable in her own skin publicly.
But what I saw was much more than that.
I’ve never thought about athletes as having their own community. I guess I feel like they’re all so separated in their own worlds by the sports they play, not united in the fact that they’re all athletes. But last night, it’s all I kept thinking as I watched them support one another as they accepted awards. As they watched emotional videos and stories from the past year, my heart filled with emotion as they shed tears and shared laughs. It was actually one of the best shows I’ve ever watched and I had no idea I would love it so much. Maybe it was this year specifically because of a few individuals, or maybe that’s how every year is. But I was overcome with emotion multiple times last night and it made me rethink my entire view of athletes.
We watch these individuals play sports. And we think “they’re getting paid to play and do what they love! How cool is that?!” But there’s so much more that goes into it. Practices, training camps, traveling, injuries, separations from families, and life. Life still goes on outside of their career. Their career does not define them.
Three individuals last night took the show in my opinion.
Lauren Hill: Lauren was a basketball player at Mount St Joseph University in Cincinnati, OH who passed away from a brain tumor this past year. She signed with the team in 2013 and just 49 days later, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. And despite being ill and suffering more than most of us can imagine, she made it out on that court to play her first and last game in November of 2014. And score. She persevered through the pain, emotional turmoil, fear, and stress and pushed herself to finish her life by doing what she loved. Her parents accepted an award on her behalf last night, and listening to her story again was absolutely beautiful. She left such a legacy, a reminder to live life to the fullest and live in the moment. And to never give up something you so badly want to accomplish.
Leah Still: I had first heard about this young girl when her dad, Devon Still, returned to the Cincinnati Bengals playing field after being moved to the practice squad. Leah, his 5 year old daughter, had been diagnosed with cancer and as you can imagine, his mind was elsewhere while practicing everyday. The Bengals moved him to the practice squad so that he could still receive benefits and financial support as he stayed by his daughter’s side to fight cancer. I’m in tears writing this because watching these two interact was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Their bond is strong, their strength is admirable, and the fight ahead of them is unknown. Her smile is contagious and her strength blew me away. How does a 5 year old deal with cancer? How, as a parent, do you watch your 5 year old deal with cancer? It broke my heart. And as I sat there holding my sleeping baby girl, I just wanted to hug this man and his family and tell him how amazing they are. If you have a chance, watch his speech. You won’t regret it.
Caitlyn Jenner: I’ve talked about Caitlyn Jenner here before, so you already know my feelings on that situation. But as I watched it again last night, as I watched her stand and walk to the stage with a standing ovation, I felt a sense of peace. I felt that the world was accepting this woman for who she was and that after 65 years of living a lie, she was free. She gave an amazing speech and reminded us that it’s not about her. But rather about the thousands of transgender people out there who are scared, alone, and depressed. They mentioned the suicide and murder rates and in what I think was the most powerful quote, said “If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead, because the reality is, I can take it,” she said. “But for the thousands of kids out there, coming to terms with being true to who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.” She’s using her platform as a former Olympian and athlete to do good. And while yes, she may be caught up in the Kardashian circle (who I love but I know others don’t), but she’s not doing this for publicity. You can see it in her eyes and hear it in her words. And if you feel differently, that’s fine. But the matter of the fact is, she’s doing it. And the world is acknowledging it.
Most of the comments I read and news I’ve seen has been positive. But of course, there’s been negative reactions to this as well. At the end of the day, I don’t think it really affects anyone, so I’m not sure why people feel the need to be mean about it. But hey, if Caitlyn says she can take it, then forget the naysayers,right? We live in America; land of the free, home of the brave. We are all entitled to our own opinions, but the least we can do is be respectful about them. Caitlyn took that stage with class, elegance, and strength last night. And for me, it was a pivotal moment and a moment where I felt proud to live in a country that accepts so many different people.
The ESPYs honored so many other great athletes and I wish I could talk about all of them. Except Stephen Curry, he’s still on my bad side 😉 But in all honesty, I highly recommend watching this show next year, or replays and highlights if you can. This community is one that I’ve never given much thought to once they leave the field, or court, or whatever. But it’s inspirational, motivating, and it was absolutely worth watching.
Did you watch the ESPYs? What were your favorite parts?