Courage

Why Arthur Ashe Would’ve Been Happy With Caitlyn Jenner Winning The Courage Award

When I first found out on June 3rd that Caitlyn Jenner would be awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards, I was a bit perplexed.

I knew that she would be a powerful icon for the transgender movement. I knew that with her brand and the image of her family, she would be making a big sacrifice in choosing to live her life a different way. I have the utmost respect for her decision and I didn’t, for a second, doubt her courage.

At the same time, I had the same big question as anyone else: What the heck does any of this have to do with sports? With big stories around the indelible impact of Devon Still and Lauren Hill’s courage, it was hard to figure out why a former decathlon athlete who had long been removed from sports-related headlines would suddenly deserve this honor.

I soon realized my critique was innocuous compared to what I began to see on social media.

It didn’t help that Caitlyn Jenner had long been affiliated with the Kardashians, a family known for publicity and unique capitalist opportunities, or that the announcement came very close to a Vanity Fair cover that had not allowed much time for society to process or educate themselves on the meaning of the transformation at all. As expected, many chimed in to announce more deserving winners and pictures of army soldiers and cancer patients. Others threw in words like “freak”, “gross”, “disgusting”, “monster” and other hateful comments with no relation to the award. An extreme low.

The most intriguing comments I saw were related to Arthur Ashe himself.

I was curious. I looked up Arthur Ashe’s story and what his thoughts would have been to Caitlyn Jenner as a recipient.

Many know Arthur Ashe as a reputable tennis player but few know why he became the namesake of an award related to courage. In September of 1988, after receiving a surgery, Ashe was discovered to be HIV positive through a complication from blood transfusion. For years, he and his wife kept his illness private for the sake of his young daughter. It wasn’t until 1992 that Ashe decided to go public with his illness and became an advocate, working to raise awareness of the virus and to clear up common misconceptions about his diagnosis and disease. He started the Arthur Ashe foundation for defeating AIDs and committed to working for resources and funding to build support. This was at a time when there was still confusion around who could contract it and how to interact with those who had it.

There was a large stigma especially around the fact it was mostly homosexuals who could contract this disease. This led Ashe to interface with many members of the LGBT community throughout his fight and it was stated that he had nothing but sympathy and respect for the gay communities, often arguing in defense of their lifestyles.

My guess is no — Arthur Ashe wouldn’t have been upset. As a celebrity creating awareness for a relatively unknown disease, he would’ve had empathy for the challenge that lay ahead of Caitlyn Jenner and battling the stigma around the transgender movement. As someone who had to keep a matter private for the sake of reputation and his family, he would’ve understood Caitlyn’s struggle. As someone who spent much of his life fighting to create acceptance of a new reality for millions of others, he would’ve been smiling to see Caitlyn Jenner trying to do the same.

As for the courage award itself being awarded to those in sports, my quick research led me to another understanding: the award is not limited to athletes. By definition, the award goes to those whose contributions transcend sports. The award was won in 2009 by Nelson Mandela for his actions in South Africa to divert racial tensions. It was won in 2002 posthumously to those who diverted one of the flights during 9/11. The award has been won by cancer patients, military veterans, activists and more. If anything, this award should teach us that courage comes in many forms. Last year, Michael Sam caught similar criticism for his public announcement of homosexuality. Courage means staying brave in the face of bullets and medical treatments, but also staying brave in the face of hate, discrimination, and harmful prejudice. Courage is not a competition. In fact, courage in 2015 is starting to mean more. For Arthur Ashe, he had to brave a debilitating virus but dealt with much of the same skepticism from American society. He understood courage in many of its different forms. To think that he would have condemned this type of courage is disingenuous at best.

Whether you think someone else was more deserving of the award, it should not mean that Caitlyn Jenner was simply not a qualified candidate. I highly doubt it was a simple decision from a PR side. It was probably one that was highly scrutinized by Disney and ESPN alike. If you should criticize anyone, you can continue to criticize ESPN. Just know that many others — including the 40% of transgender people who attempt suicide at some points in their lives — count this platform as a blessing.

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15 Quotes To Help You Think Differently in 2015

Originally published as a Linkedin post.

Inspirational quotes and sayings are one of the best ways to help us inspire change when it comes time for self-improvement planning before 2015: they can prompt us to look at situations differently, motivate us to reach that next level, or simply capture thoughts or emotions that make us feel better after a rough day. Sure, they look cute on calendar box sets and your high school friend’s Pinterest posts, but they can also have a profound effect on your attitude towards life if you let them. Here are some quotes to help you think differently…

..About Success:

“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

..About Adaptability:

“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, but about learning to dance in the rain.” – Vivien Greene

..About Optimism:

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out.” – John Wooden

..About Bullshitting:

“If you’re really successful at bullshitting, it means you’re not hanging around enough people smarter than you.” – Neil Degrasse Tyson

..About Limitations:

“Our fears are mental. The mind that perceives the limitation is the limitation.” – Buddha

..About Throwing Away Opportunities:

“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, It might have been.” – Kurt Vonnegut

..About Perspective:

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” – Abraham Lincoln

..About Ambition:

If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” – Donna Williams

..About Doubters:

“People will kill you over time. They’ll kill you with tiny, harmless phrases like ‘Be realistic.'” – Dylan Moran

..About Expectations:

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it; it’s that our aim is too low and we reach it.” – Michelangelo

..About Complacency:

“Whenever an individual or a business decides that success has been attained, progress stops.” – Thomas Watson

..About Courage:

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” – Winston Churchill

..About Acting Over Complaining:

“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” – Chinese Proverb

..About Valuing Others:

“I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn’t learn something from him.” – Galileo Galilei

..About Life:

“The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.” – David Viscott

If you enjoyed any of these, feel free to tuck them away for a rainy day or share with a friend. Happy New Year and good luck with your resolutions for 2015!