The Caitlyn Jenner ESPY Outrage


Caitlyn Jenner introduced herself to the world this week with a spread in Vanity Fair and a trailer for her new reality show, and unsurprisingly, the Internet had a lot to say about it. Mostly, it seemed to turn into a contest to see who could be the most supportive, and that’s great. If you had told me in 1982 that the chiseled decathlete on my Wheaties box was going to change into a woman, and not only that, that if you made any kind of joke about it everyone would call you out as a small-minded bigot, my head would have exploded, and yet here we are. There’s hope for us yet.

Soon after Ms. Jenner went public, it was announced that she would be the recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at this year’s ESPY Awards, and that’s where this thing got ugly.

These people are right! How dare they give the Arthur Ashe award to Caitlyn Jenner?! It besmirches the long, proud tradition of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, and belittles the accomplishments of past winners, like last year’s winner, um… hold on, let me Google it… okay, I don’t actually know who last year’s winner was. I didn’t actually even know there was an Arthur Ashe Courage Award. BUT STILL.

Some really contentious discussions on this came through my Facebook feed, with some people arguing strenuously that giving this award to Ms. Jenner demeans the accomplishments of Noah Galloway, who lost an arm and a leg in Iraq and now competes in Crossfit events, and Lauren Hill, a basketball player who recently died of cancer, but not before raising $25 million for cancer research.

Those are both formidable accomplishments and show more courage than I can possibly even relate to. If the Arthur Ashe Courage Award were given to one of them, instead of to Caitlyn Jenner, I would have no objection at all, just as I have no objection to it going to Ms. Jenner. You know why? Because it’s not my award. I don’t get to pick who wins it. I never heard of Noah Galloway or Lauren Hill before this little controversy, I’ve never watched the ESPYs, and I have no plans to start now.

If Noah Galloway is a hero or an inspiration to you, that’s great. He appears to be a worthy role model (at first glance — again, I never heard of him until yesterday). But why does he have to be my hero too? Why does honoring one person dishonor someone else? Not winning the Arthur Ashe Courage Award takes nothing away from this man’s accomplishments. If the example he’s set helps you through a tough time, or motivates you to try harder or be a better person, more power to both of you — I would never try and tell you that actually no, you should be taking your inspiration from Caitlyn Jenner, or Mary Lou Retton or Gene Simmons or Oscar the Grouch (my three biggest heroes).

If the money Lauren Hill raised for cancer research were to lead to a cure, would the people she saved be saying to each other, “I’m so glad she didn’t just lie down when she was diagnosed, and instead went to work trying to help others — I wouldn’t even be alive without her. I just wish she had won that Arthur Ashe Courage Award.”

I had all this in mind when I saw this story:

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The Sackler Center for Feminist Art is going to give an award to Miss Piggy. That’s Miss Piggy of the Muppets, who is not only not a woman, or human, or even a sentient being. She is a pretend pig made out of felt wearing a blonde wig, and her French is atrocious. So should we expect to see feminists protesting that giving her an award demeans the feminist works of Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe, Susan Sontag, Jane Fonda, Yoko Ono, Kim Gordon, Lena Dunham, or Pussy Riot? Somehow I think that those legacies will survive one night honoring someone else with a party and a trophy. It has no lasting value to anyone, not even the recipient.

They put Green Day in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before the Replacements. Jethro Tull won a Best Hard Rock Album Grammy over Metallica. DANCES WITH WOLVES won Best Picture over GOODFELLAS. They gave CIA Director George Tenet a Congressional Medal of Freedom after he lied us into Iraq and authorized torture. Jon Hamm never won an Emmy for playing Don Draper. Barack Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize before he’d even finished unpacking his suitcase at the White House.

Awards are stupid and meaningless and assigning any importance to them whatsoever is misguided. Actor and comedian T.J. Miller, who won a Critic’s Choice Award last week for his work on SILICON VALLEY, said it best:

“Awards are for children,” Miller said through a mouthful of Prime Rib, “Because children need a tangible representation of their achievement. And as adults, you have to settle for the respect and admiration of your peers.”

If you really feel like Noah Galloway, or Lauren Hill, or Jon Hamm, or Metallica needs an award to validate their accomplishments, make your own trophy and send it to them. I’m sure they will treasure it for about twelve seconds — just like they would any other award.

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