Caitlyn Jenner’s Courage

Headshot of Nick Visser
 Associate Editor, The Huffington Post

Arthur Ashe Courage Award

The Arthur Ashe award “is meant to honor individuals whose contributions transcend sports through courageous action,” ESPN said in a statement when it was forced to address criticism of its selection. “We are proud to honor Caitlyn Jenner embracing her identity and doing so in a public way.”

Award nominations are controversial — some worthy nominees get snubbed and others overlooked. Individuals like Lauren Hill, the inspiring 19-year-old basketball player who died from brain cancer earlier this year, are equally deserving of praise and admiration.

But the criticism surrounding Jenner’s selection hasn’t been based on her athletic prowess, her activism or her courage. It’s based on deeply seeded transphobia perpetuated by those who focus on genitalia rather than gender identity — people who ask invasive personal questions that fuel dangerous tabloid voyeurism.

The world of sports is still a notoriously unaccepting place for many trans athletes. States like Virginia and North Carolina require students to play on teams based on the gender listed on their birth certificate, and no openly transgender competitor has ever participated in the Olympics, though they may be allowed to.

Jenner’s actions unequivocally transcend the nature of a sports landscape that’s still struggling to accept gay athletes, let alone transgender ones. Her bravery compelled a room of many of the world’s most celebrated athletes to give her a standing ovation.

“Trans people deserve something vital. They deserve your respect,” Jenner said at the event. “And from that respect comes a more compassionate community, a more empathetic society and a better world for all of us.”