ESPN’s decision to give Caitlyn Jenner the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at this week’s ESPY awards ceremony generated quite a bit of feedback.
The most notable commentary on the decision came from Bob Costas, who called giving the award to Jenner “a crass exploitation play.”
Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch spoke recently to ESPYs co-executive producers Maura Mandt and Connor Schell for some insight into why Jenner was selected to receive the award.
“I think Caitlyn’s decision to publicly come out as a transgender woman and live as Caitlyn Jenner displayed enormous courage and self-acceptance,” Mandt told SI. “Bruce Jenner could have easily gone off into the sunset as this American hero and never have dealt with this publicly. Doing so took enormous courage. He was one of the greatest athletes of our time. That is what the Arthur Ashe Courage Award is about, somebody from the athletic community who has done something that transcends sport. One of the biggest platforms the Arthur Ashe Foundation has is educational, and I think in this choice we have the opportunity to educate people about this issue and hopefully change and possibly save some lives. I think that is why it was the right choice.”
Mandt also directly responded to Costas’ comments. Here’s more from Deitsch:
Asked specifically if there were other candidates meriting serious consideration for the Ashe Award prior to Jenner’s announcement, Mandt said, I think that once Caitlin’s decision became public it really was something very unique, she said. I don’t think it is fair to mention [other names] names. Added Schell: It is fair to say that at all times there are many, many worthy candidates for this award. I don’t think there were a specific number we were considering at any moment. Asked directly, as suggested by Costas, if the show being on ABC for the first time played a role in choosing someone as high-profile Jenner for the Ashe honor, Mandt and Schell said zero. Mandt said the decision to move the show to ABC was a separate conversation that was in motion prior to any decision about the Ashe winner. Mandt repeatedly denied that the selection was some sort of publicity stunt for the show. [snip] Mandt said that ESPN expected criticism and backlash with the selection, though she was surprised by how aggressive the online vitriol was her way. But the criticism that personally affected her most, she said, was from Costas, someone she has long admired. I have watched Bob Costas my whole life, have great respect for Bob Costas, Mandt said. He has brought to us as fans and viewers some of the most memorable moments. He is a gifted broadcaster and writer, and perhaps of all of the things that have been said negatively, that disappointed me so greatly. Not because of his opinion. This whole story is all about that we get to choose who we are, what we say. That was what Arthur Ashe was about. So for Bob Costas who is greatly respected to make that statement with authority about this being a crass publicity play, people take that with authority, and that is dangerous.
The ESPYs will air at 7 p.m. Wednesday and on ABC for the first time in the program’s history.
You can read more from Sports Illustrated’s interview with Mandt and Schell by clicking here.