The ESPYs happened Wednesday night, and I tuned in. I came expecting just an awards show, and I did get a little irritated at who won what when it came to honoring the year’s best performances and athletes. But I left with tons of emotions after hearing the heartwrenching stories of those who have faced and are facing intense struggle.

The ESPYs is, as I have learned from last night, a mixed bag when it comes to giving away awards to the year’s best athletes. LeBron James was up against a horse? How do you even nominate American Pharaoh for Best Championship Performance? Since he and the Cavs didn’t win the NBA Finals, it can also be argued if LeBron James needed to be nominated at all; what about Steph Curry? His team was actually the one that won! I rarely link to Fox News for anything, but their video really does break down why James, or a lot of people, actually, got awards: PR. He’s in that upcoming movie Trainwreck, and winning the award is great for promotion. But congratulations to James.

Also, Serena Williams losing to Rhonda Rousey? I mean, I’m a fan of Rousey (and an even bigger one after she pointed out Floyd Mayweather’s physical abuse record), but Rousey hasn’t just won Wimbledon, about to edge out Steffi Graf for the most wins in the history of the Open series! Williams is about to become the top player for both men and women, and ESPN gives Rhonda Rousey the award for Best Female Athlete?!?!

Despite the WTF-ness of the awarding process, there were many great moments in the program, most of them revolving around people overcoming tremendous odds to still achieve greatness. If I could recommend the ESPYs to do one thing, it’s to just become an awards show giving recognition to those in the sports world who go on to influence the world in a positive way.

Even though I’m thinking twice about James getting his award, I agree with the choice because he was up against a horse. You can’t just go against the human race like that and pull for a horse to win. But in truth, the only “Best Athlete of This Year” award given during the night that I truly agree with is Mo’ne Davis getting the Best Breakthrough Athlete Award. She made history during the recent Little League World Series becoming the first female to through a shutout game, and later on made even more history becoming the first Little Leaguer (and I’d say the youngest athlete ever) on the cover of Sports Illustrated. 

The rest of the awards, the ones given for courage and valor, can’t be argued against. These people and their families deserve these awards, even though the awards themselves pale in comparison to the real fight the recipients do on a daily basis. Between the parents of late college basketball star Lauren Hill accepting her award for her bravery in the midst of inoperable cancer, former Notre Dame basketball star-turned U.S. soldier-turned VA counselor Danielle Green accepting the Pat Tillman Award, and Robin Roberts honoring late ESPN superstar Stuart Scott, who lost his battle with cancer six months ago, I was left emotionally compromised.

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The last two awards, the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance and the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage, were given to Cincinnati Bengals player Devon Still and his daughter Leah for her courageous fight against cancer at just four years old. His speech, was moving in many ways, but it was especially touching because, as this tweet by Michaela Angela Davis states:

I have to admit: I have been privately skeptical of Caitlyn Jenner and just how committed to the cause she would be. I know she said during her Diane Sawyer interview (and afterwards) that she was going to help shine a light on transgender issues, but after seeing the Vanity Fair cover and what seemed like her focus on promoting I Am Cait, I was beginning to think she wasn’t going to try to connect with the rest of the world at large and just stay in her rich, privileged bubble while other people in the transgender community continue to get killed and commit suicide. This probably sounds unfair, like I’m saying that just her presence will fix every issue the transgender community faces. That’s not what I’m trying to say at all. What I’m simply trying to say is that I was afraid that she wouldn’t partner up with  or even acknowledge transgender heroines like Janet Mock and Laverne Cox and would simply ignore the issues simply because she had the luxury to. That Kardashian shadow is long, and I honestly thought she was just going to stay in it.

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Thankfully, I was wrong. After hearing her acceptance speech for the Arthur Ashe Award, I’m not only relieved, but also even more supportive of Jenner as she keeps growing into the activist role she’s already committed herself to. Perhaps I was wrong to worry so quickly. I’m excited that it seems she’s committed to standing away from that Kardashian shadow and is her own woman, a woman who will use the platform she had as a former Olympian—and the increased platform she married into—for good.

Overall, the ESPYs were fine. I really think the show would be a lot more successful just focusing on the heartwarming aspects than the “This Year in Achievement” aspects, since it seems like they get the latter wrong half of the time. I came away from the show with a profound sense of respect for the families and individuals who have fought against the odds and succeeded. Their stories have stayed with the audience long after the show’s end, and I believe their stories will help change lives and make America a better and much more caring place.

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