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Courage Be A Lady

So they gave the Arthur Ashe ESPY Award for courage to Caitlyn Jenner. While it made for great television, I have to admit to being confused. Despite not making it to fifty and suffering from both AIDs and heart disease, Ashe himself persevered as an important public spokesman for both causes. Notable past Ashe Award winners include Jim Valvano and Muhammad Ali. Valvano was active in finding a cure for the cancer that cut his life short and gave one of the most stirring acceptance speeches in ESPY history. Ali, afflicted with Parkinson’s, was the model of courage during the Vietnam era, refusing to be drafted despite rampant criticism and its costing him his boxing title. As he famously put it: “No Vietcong ever called me nigger.” And now we have the former Bruce Jenner, Caitlyn, holding the same trophy.

Don’t get me wrong .. I understand that much of what Jenner has done takes, well, balls. To be an exalted male athlete and decide at sixty-five that you’re going to be a woman is not your average life-transition. To put on an evening gown and makeup and celebrate your ‘coming out’ party in front of a room packed with top-tier, straight athletes takes a certain form of chutzpah. But does Jenner’s life really warrant an award for courageousness? Gender confusion aside — and I do realize that it’s the whole point here — Jenner has led an exceptionally blessed life to this point. Start with the simple fact that he’s enjoyed the status of a straight white male, until just recently. As Louis CK would point out, being born when Jenner was, this is the equivalent of winning the lottery. Add to this that he was both an exceptional and celebrated athlete who seemed to step in gold, both literally and figuratively, everywhere he turned. He was on the cover of every magazine and every other cereal box. His celebrity allowed him to enjoy a lucrative public speaking career and, by his own choice, a reality television program. He was a good-looking man all his life and some would call him a stunningly statuesque woman. Hell, the guy/gal was involved in a fatal car accident on the PCH last February and walked away without a scratch. Conveniently, he’ll get to skip menopause, pregnancy, workplace discrimination .. any number of obstacles that those born female encounter. And now he gets an award for courage.

The problem with courage is that it defies quantifiable description. It isn’t so much the circumstance that’s important, but the level of choice involved. Valvano had no choice in getting cancer; his decision to fight on despite it can only be appreciated from someone else in the same position. The same can be said of Ashe. In this sense, Jenner’s move can indeed be seen as courageous, as he could have just as easily lived the remainder of his life as a man. David Letterman made a brief speech when he came back on the air after the 9-11 attacks. In it he noted that courage “defines all other human behavior” and that “pretending to be courageous is just as good as the real thing.” It’s relative; what seems insurmountable to you might be peanuts to me. It’s in that moment that we move forward — fake it, as Letterman suggests — that courage resides. Still, I’m not sure who, exactly, we should be giving these awards to. Isn’t the point of accepting those with varying sexuality that it isn’t a choice, but rather an innate disposition? I’m just as thrown by the “pride” movement, regardless of the identity being celebrated. Gay, Irish, Italian .. it still always comes before the fall. To take pride in one’s select identity is to breed separatism. The boisterousness of these celebrations is, in part, a reaction to the fact that at one time all of these groups have been shit on by the prevailing class. But once they prevail, they typically start doing the shitting. None of which will stop ESPN from giving out these awards, or looking for future recipients who will attract the largest TV audience .. Brett Farve’s reaction not withstanding.

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  1. cookie rojas wrote:

    Rick, you’ll be happy to know you’re not blocked in China. Internet is spotty, no gmail, no google, no facebook, thankfully.
    This is my note in a bottle.

    Colonel Kurtz

    more later

    Thursday, August 6, 2015 at 1:28 pm | Permalink
  2. admin wrote:

    Thanks for the shout-out from China, Kurtz. I’m huge over there .. Zuckerberg has offered me the big bucks for my domain name but I’m holding out for a better offer.

    Thursday, August 13, 2015 at 11:15 am | Permalink

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