Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner has made headlines for a recent sex change and appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair. For this, ESPN has announced that Jenner will be awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the next ESPY's, but is what Jenner did worthy of this award? Could it even be called courageous? Let's take a look at Arthur Ashe and the recipients of his award, as well as others that define what courage is.
Arthur Ashe broke the color barrier in professional tennis. Not only did he break it, he smashed it. He won 3 Grand Slam titles, making him one of the greatest tennis players to come from the United States. In addition to this, he also struggled with various health problems. He had serious heart trouble, suffering a heart attack despite his incredible physical condition. These heart problems were hereditary, coming from both his father (who had had several heart attacks) and his mother (who had cardiovascular disease and died at 27). After some tests it was discovered that he would need quadruple bi-pass surgery. The surgery went well and Ashe began to rehab in the hopes of re-entering professional tennis. Shortly before he was to make his return he suffered another heart attack and he decided to retire. Several years later he encountered more health problems, and it was discovered that he had contracted HIV, likely from contaminated blood given to him during his second surgery. He at first tried to keep the news quiet, for the sake of his family, but after a few years decided to go public with his disease. He would then spend the rest of his life raising awareness for the disease. Arthur Ashe was a man who excelled in the face of adversity in his sporting career, and fought against an insurmountable disease in his retirement. Truly he is worthy to have an award for courage dedicated in his honor.
The inaugural winner of the Arthur Ashe Award was Jimmy Valvano, a national championship winning basketball coach who had been diagnosed with cancer. After a year of fighting cancer he was awarded the Arthur Ashe award, and subsequently gave one of the most famous and inspirational speeches in sports history. He died eight weeks after receiving the award at the age of 47.
Other notable winners are: Pat Tillman, a former NFL safety who walked away from a long and successful career to fight, and eventually die, for the freedom of others in the Iraq-Afghanistan war. Nelson Mandela, whose contributions to this world need no explanation. Dewey Bozella, a boxer who spent 26 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Pat Summitt, the winning-est women's basketball coach in history (never had a losing season) who is currently fighting Alzheimer's disease. Robin Roberts, a sportscaster and news anchor who has survived breast cancer. These people all showed great courage in the face of trials and challenges.
Courage is many things. Courage is our Founding Fathers signing their names on a document that would surely get them killed if a rag-tag, untrained, and poorly equipped army could not overcome the largest, best trained, and best equipped military in the world. Courage is bearing the life of a slave yet still hoping for a better tomorrow. Courage is the Light Brigade, who carried out their orders despite the knowledge that it would get them killed. Courage is my ancestors who crossed the plains only to get trapped at Martin's Cove. Courage is my grandfather, who enlisted in the Navy to serve his country during WWII. Courage is my father, who despite a successful career as an executive in several start up companies decided to start his own financial advising business during uncertain economic times. Courage is my mother, who raised 5 children while often working full time as a nurse to help support my family. Courage is my sister, who is raising three kids with a husband in a medical residency. Courage is my brother-in-law, who decided to take on the challenges and stress of medical school in addition to the challenges that come with supporting a family. Courage is my brother and sister-in-law, who moved to an unfamiliar place and took on a challenging new job with a family of three kids. Courage is countless others who have looked major illnesses, desperate financial situations, and near impossible living conditions in the eye and pushed on the best they could. Courage is never giving up. Courage is daring to stand alone. Courage is daring to do what is right.
Courage is not seeking the praise of others. Courage is not taking the easy way out. Courage is not doing what is expected of you simply because it is expected of you.
So then, did Jenner display courage? No. He gave in. He did what was expected of someone in his situation. He made the decision that would undoubtedly be met with the praise of the media, and the praise of the world. He made the decision to take the easier way out, to give in to trying circumstances and to simply go with the flow. No, Jenner is not deserving of this award.