After an emotional and uplifting short film detailing her journey, Arthur Ashe Courage Award honoree Caitlyn Jenner was introduced by out World Cup soccer champ Abby Wambach at the ESPY Awards.
Jenner rose from the audience, embraced her mother, and was given a standing ovation as she walked to the stage.
This was the highlight of the ESPYs, and Caitlyn did not disappoint: She accepted the award with class and humor, cracking jokes about Fashion Police, before delivering an impassioned and inspiring address about the need for acceptance, inclusion and respect.
Admitting she never met a trans person before a few months ago, Jenner said coming to terms with herself was “eye-opening, inspiring, but also frightening.”
She went on to talk about trans youth, reminding the audience of how many are being lost to murder and suicide.
“With attention, comes responsibility,” she added. “As a group, as athletes, how you conduct your lives, what you say, what you do, is absorbed and observed by millions of people, especially young people.”
“I know I’m clear with my responsibility,” she added.
“Trans people deserve something vital,” she said. “They deserve your respect. And from that respect, comes a more compassionate community, a more empathetic society and a better world for all of us.”
Bravo to Caitlyn for spotlighting the negativity, hatred and violence directed towards trans people—and for calling on her community, her country and her fellow athletes to do them better.
ESPN tapped Christina Kahrl, a sports writer and trans woman, to write an op-ed discussing Jenner’s choice as the Courage Award honoree, and to push back against critics.
At its inception, the Arthur Ashe Courage Award venerated a world-class athlete who came forward in 1992 as having contracted AIDS at a time when this country, perhaps all the way from the White House to your house, was much more indifferent to the fate of those afflicted.
It recognized that the same ethic that defines an athlete — the ability to rise to a challenge — can transcend sports and also guide his or her responses to challenges people confront the world over.
Honoring Caitlyn Jenner with the 2015 Arthur Ashe Courage Award is an example of the power of sports to transcend and humanize one such challenge, because it recognizes the simultaneity that the athlete who achieved incandescent Olympic glory in 1976 is also a transsexual woman.
And in recognizing her decades-long struggle to act on her sense of self, it acknowledges the challenge is not hers alone. It belongs, now as then, to all Americans, trans and not.
Congratulations, Caitlyn, for an honor well deserved.