by Brandon Enyeart
I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to actually write this piece. The black and white landscape we find ourselves in these days when it comes to social politics can be a little tricky when contemplating writing an opinion piece. However, after reading about Bob Costas’ comments on “The Dan Patrick Show” this evening regarding Caitlyn Jenner being awarded ESPN’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award and then seeing the responses to Costas’ opinions, I decided I would share my thoughts as well.
It wasn’t the actual transphobic commenters that got to me, we all know those types are waiting patiently for any chance to spew their prejudice and picket funerals; in my humble opinion, they aren’t worth my time. It was those who called Costas transphobic for his sentiments however, that struck a chord with me. It just proved to me once again that the color gray is nearly non existent in the social political spectrum and that may very well be where the problem actually sits.
I have several LGBT friends….I know, typical thing to say right? But really, I do and that’s why I wondered if I should share my opinions on Caitlyn Jenner, simply out of fear that they would be misinterpreted as a lack of support for the LGBT community, but when it all comes down to it, nothing could be further from the truth. My problem isn’t with Caitlyn Jenner, we are all different, I pay to have ink put under my skin, because it makes me happy, you pay for someone to punch holes in your ears, Jenny down the street feels more comfortable with golden locks even though she was born a brunette. We are all freaks. The nerds, the athletes, the left, the right, the God fearing, the Heathens, the Saints, the Sinners.
My problem isn’t with Jenner or the LGBT community at all…..my problem is with ESPN.
For anyone that buys the fact that ESPN chose to give Caitlyn Jenner the Arthur Ashe Courage Award as a sign of progress, sit down for a minute and really think that over. Now I understand that the award isn’t always presented to someone directly involved in sports, but let’s be realistic here. This generation mostly knows Caitlyn Jenner as Kim Kardashian’s step-dad. It wasn’t all that long ago that many of you made fun of Jenner for her involvement with the infamous Kardashians and I’d be willing to bet that a good portion of this generation doesn’t even realize what an athlete Jenner was. That’s not to discount Jenner the athlete, it’s just putting into perspective what her contributions to society have actually been as of late.
I respect Jenner entirely and I wish her all the best, but when it comes to the actual subject of gender identity? Jenner is only a small drop in the ocean. All the teens that have been bullied, all the kids who ended their lives too short, every single transgender person that came before Caitlyn Jenner, they are the faces of being transgender. Whether they be sad, happy, tragic or hopeful, they have been fighting this battle for decades and most of the time only heard of when it’s too late.
A while back ESPN had a special on transgender sports writers. That was progress. Handing Caitlyn Jenner the Arthur Ashe Courage Award is a costume labeled as “Progress”. It’s an attention grabber, it’s a ratings booster, it’s exploitation that is welcoming division when it could have been instead been quiet acceptance that would hopefully breed unity.
Caitlyn Jenner isn’t the first athlete to be transgender. Canadian mountain biker, Michelle Dumaresq came out years ago. I remember reading her story at a much different time in the world and being impressed with her courage. She didn’t have a Vanity Fair cover shoot to back her up, she didn’t have hordes of supporters to wish her well as she took that huge step in her life. All Dumaresq had was her courage and her sport. She wasn’t the only one either. There are many transgender athletes out there and there will be many more in the future, but they won’t get awards.
Although on the surface it may seem like I am saying that coming out as transgender isn’t “courageous”, that’s not what I am trying to communicate. I am only saying that honoring Jenner for a sports oriented award decades away from her last podium finish and a bucket full of Keeping Up With The Kardashians episodes later is a parody. It’s disrespectful to the award and the many other athletes out there that really deserved it.
Disabled war veteran, Noah Galloway lost both his left arm and left leg to a roadside bomb in Iraq. He competes in Crossfit competitions, as well as runs marathons and that doesn’t even begin to paint the picture of how he transformed himself post-accident to get to that point. He was runner up for the award.
19 year old Lauren Hill played college basketball for Mount St. Joseph while she battled a brain tumor. She knew her young life would be cut short, but she was out there on the court until she finally lost her battle. She won’t win this award.
Paralympic medalist snowboarder, Amy Purdy lost both of her legs to meningitis, not only does she snowboard better than most of us with two legs, but just like Noah Galloway, she also competed on Dancing With the Stars and if you didn’t know she was missing both legs, it was pretty hard to tell. Purdy has had the courage to do many things that most of us wouldn’t even dream of, yet she hasn’t won this award.
I get it, not everyone can. There are plenty of great stories out there worthy of the award, but it can only go to one person a year right? That’s fair. That said, those stories I just shared are just a sampling of the many athletes that make the word “inspirational” seem way too small
Again, I respect Jenner and it DOES take courage to be doing what she is doing, but I would bet even she would admit that if you really sit down and think about what ESPN has done and what this actually represents, you will realize that the reaction it will receive will only create more space between those on the wrong side of history and those on the right, you will see that it’s not a showing of compassion, but instead ammo for the opposition, you will find that there is a fine line between being a symbol and becoming fodder.
Bob Costas’ words weren’t transphobic, they were simply an opinion. All he stated was that personally he felt the award should be given to someone who is more currently involved with the sports world. What’s more accepting anyways? Someone who treats the situation as a relatively normal subject or someone who places the subject matter in the limelight for people to stare at like an animal at the zoo? We still have a long ways to go, but there really are prejudice people out there, perhaps we should spend less time correcting those who accidentally call Jenner a “he” out of habit or chastising those who can see a publicity stunt from a mile away.
Much like Michael Sam coming out as gay made headlines last year, I can only hope this is the last time we see a transgender person make this much of a media splash. The transgender population deserves the same peace, treatment and respect as anyone does. We are all unique in some way and sometimes that deserves to be celebrated, but when the celebration turns into a side show, you’re only taking steps back, not forward.
Editor in Chief of Lemonade Magazine
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