The ESPY’s. The sports world’s answer to the Grammy’s. I had the fortune to attend the event live in Los Angeles at the Microsoft Theater (formerly: Nokia Theater). As my boyfriend, the true sports fan, and I raced to get to our seats before the doors closed, I couldn’t help but be a bit excited. My first awards show. I’ve never even watched the ESPY’s on television and outside of the obvious categories, didn’t know what to expect.
How They Hit It…
Lauren Hill. ESPN gave a moving tribute to the late Ms. Hill when they honored her with “Best Moment”. I vaguely remembered hearing about her because, my boyfriend. It was one of those moments that make you sit and think: It’s not all testosterone, money and egos! Lauren was a college freshmen who just wanted to play basketball. She was also living with terminal brain cancer.
Leah Still. Leah Still, daughter of Bengal’s player Devon Still, was awarded the Jimmy V. Perseverance Award. (Side note: $1 from each event ticket was donated the Jimmy V. research fund). Leah, now 5 years old, could not be there in person so her father stepped on stage to accept on her behalf. His acceptance speech was nothing less than moving. Devon Still said something that stuck with me that night: The NFL set a bar for the rest of the corporate world when they put its players above the game. See, the NFL kept Devon on contract as part of the practice team so he could continue to receive medical insurance to pay for his daughter’s treatment. Kudos to you NFL and keep “beating up cancer” Leah.
And then there was Caitlyn Jenner (born: Bruce Jenner, Olympic Gold Medalist) who was awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award amidst a trove of controversy. Caitlyn’s speech was just as moving. She all but told her nay-sayers to bring it on. She can take it…and she’ll take it for all the thousands of transgender youth and adults out there. Applause to you Caitlyn.
With so many hits it’s hard to see where the ESPYs and ESPN missed the mark. But then, you may not be looking through the eyes of a woman with a disability.
How They Missed It
By now we all know that not every award is presented on stage. But there were two awards I thought ESPN could have presented on stage. Not only would they have been making a statement of solidarity, but also sending a message of another sort of strength and perseverance and courage: Best Male and Best Female Athlete with a Disability.
See, here’s the thing. With the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 less than a week away (July 26, 2015), ESPN missed the perfect opportunity to highlight how people with disabilities participate in the sports arena. They missed an opportunity to send a message to the millions of disabled children, letting them know that they can have sports dreams, it’s not impossible. They missed an opportunity to show solidarity and support for the disabled athletes around us.
As a woman with a disability, I would have loved to see Becca Meyers (Best Female Athlete with a Disability) and Krige Schabort (Best Male Athlete with a Disability) grace the televised stage of the ESPYs. Becca was born with Usher Syndrome which affected her hearing and vision. She is now a Team USA Paralympic Gold Medalist in swimming. I want to hear her story. If I were still a little girl. I would want to know about the Becca’s out there (Especially since I’ve been swimming since I was 4). Krige Schabort is a war veteran and now a world-class paralympic athlete from South Africa. He lost both of his legs in an attack during the border war with Angola. Now, Schabort is a medalist in several different races, including the triathalon for Team USA. I’m not one for inspiration porn, but these two are definitely worthy of the inspiration title.
So why didn’t ESPN seize an opportunity to showcase just how able people with disabilities are? Honestly, they had time to kill, as was evident by the #sorrynotsorry moment with A-Rod. That time he ate up definitely could have been used for some stage time for Becca Myers and Krige Schabort. Disability isn’t sexy. It isn’t tear-jerking. And it isn’t headline news. But I hope that one day disabled athletes will get a few minutes to shine on the ESPY stage for all eyes to see.