If you're reading this then you have access to the internet, which means you are privy to the international news story regarding the debut of Caitlyn Jenner. Caitlyn made her first appearance as a female on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine in the world's introduction to the person known formerly as Bruce, the Olympic icon and member of the infamous Kardashian family.
People have predictably had more than their fair share to say about Jenner's physically and emotionally difficult decision to live her life openly after sixty-five years, and much of it has been hateful and misguided.
Now it has been announced that this iconic American athlete will be honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at this year's ESPY Awards, and the social media backlash has begun. Countless tweets, Facebook posts, memes and blogs have condemned the choice to honor Jenner by negating her bravery in comparison to the likes of Lauren Hill, a 19-year-old woman who played basketball for Mt. St. Joseph while battling
Categorizing someone's courage by ranking it against someone else's is cowardly and shallow-minded. A soldier is brave. A kid with a cancer is brave. A human rights activist is brave. Celebrating one does not diminish the other. The only people diminishing the heroism of Lauren Hill and Noah Galloway are the people who are pitting them as rivals for an award on a television show; as if that's why they fought for their lives and the lives of others. Lauren Hill is no longer here and cannot speak for herself, but I can only imagine that she would never want someone else's bravery degraded in her name.
Some of the most influential women and men in the country's history have been activists who have stood up and owned their identity in the face of ostracism, bigotry and even the law. Cailtyn Jenner could be a much needed catalyst for changing the way Americans view sexuality and femininity in sports. Athletics still carry institutionalized sexism and homophobia that is not in keeping with the progression of the rest of our society. In many ways, sports in the United States are still stuck in the stone age and have largely resisted the massive strides taken over the last twenty years in not only equal rights for women and the LGBT community, but in acceptance for them as well.
According to theInternational Association of Athletics Federations, Jenner's 1976 gold-medal performance is No. 26 on the world all-time list. Let me break that down for you. Jenner's forty-year old Olympic performance for the USA is still considered one of the best performances in a decathlon anywhere on the planet over the last century or so. Now this member of the United States Olympic Hall of Fame (in one of the most grueling tests of athleticism in the Olympics) comes out and tells the world that she has always had the heart and soul of a woman. As a woman, that's incredibly inspirational.
There has never been an athlete that has been able to bridge the gap between the athleticism and strength of the male form and the power and determination of the female mind and heart. It's a perfect, beautiful representation of the oft-doubted competitive capacity of females.
Jenner could not be a more appropriate candidate for an award celebrating courage and leadership among athletes. She is widely recognized across multiple generations, delivered one of our country's all-time great performances in international athletic competition and is a beacon of hope and change for countless souls brutally struggling with gender identity.
Those who behave as if her life could even possibly affect anyone negatively must suffer from incredible insecurities of their own. Here's the truth; it can't affect you or anyone else negatively. It's impossible. If you have feelings of anger or hatred or frustration related to Caitlyn Jenner and her decision to physically become a woman, then it's time you take a look at your life and why you feel entitled to belittle and abuse someone who has done absolutely nothing to affect your life.
News flash: Caitlyn Jenner couldn't avoid the spotlight. Jenner has been famous for nearly forty years and her family is one of the most famous families on planet Earth, so spare everyone the rhetoric about this being a publicity stunt or an attention grab. No one in the Kardashian family sneezes without a paparazzi picture of it. The only way for her to do it on her terms was to do it openly and publicly.
Now that she has debuted her true self I applaud ESPN for taking the opportunity to help transform the landscape of American sports with her story. No one has the right to classify that as unworthy. Caitlyn Jenner is not a choice; she is a triumph.
As the first ever Arthur Ashe Courage Award recipient, a dying Jim Valvano closed his speech with a reminder of what truly made him who he was; and it wasn't his body. His words ring as true today as they ever have.
"I said it before and I'm going to say it again. Cancer can take away all my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind. It cannot touch my heart. And it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever." -Jim Valvano, 1993 ESPY Awards