Tears streamed down both sides of my face last evening. On the way down, one tear shouted, "hell yes!" before it leapt from my chin, onto the rug. The next tear, sighed a reserved, "it's about time." The third tear solely streamed quietly with sadness, thinking of all of the lives that we have already lost.
Since it was announced, I have read all of the back and forth commentary on whether or not Caitlyn Jenner is worthy of winning the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYS. Most of the dialogue focuses around the fact that Caitlyn is "competing" with other more deserving candidates. When in reality, it is not a competition. There are no nominees, finalists, or votes. It has not been the case in past ESPYS, nor is it now. Social media has created the tension, the memes and the controversy. It became the "saints and heroes" versus the "freak."
People made the case for Lauren Hill. She won our hearts over as the charismatic freshman basketball player at Mount St. Joseph University in Cinncinatti, Ohio. Despite suffering from terminal brain cancer, she inspired a nation with her sheer grit and determination. She lost her battle with cancer at the all too young age of 19, but managed to raise over a million dollars for pediatric brain cancer research in the process. She reminded us of what sports and coaching are all about. She reminded us of innocence and our own mortality. Is Lauren Hill a hero? An emphatic "yes."
Most of the controversy surrounded Noah Galloway, a former U.S. Army Sergeant who was injured by an IED in the Iraq War, leading to the partial loss of his left arm and leg, amongst other injuries. After leaving the Army, Noah has fearlessly competed in road races, Tough Mudders, and CrossFit competitions. He's a motivational speaker and is the definition of resilience. Is Noah a hero? Unabashedly, yes.
On the subject of why Jenner was selected for the Ashe Award, Sports Illustrated said, "I think Caitlyn's decision to publicly come out as a transgender woman and live as Caitlyn Jenner displayed enormous courage and self-acceptance. Bruce Jenner could have easily gone off into the sunset as this American hero and never have dealt with this publicly. Doing so took enormous courage. He was one of the greatest athletes of our time. That is what the Arthur Ashe Courage Award is about, somebody from the athletic community who has done something that transcends sport. One of the biggest platforms the Arthur Ashe Foundation has is educational, and I think in this choice we have the opportunity to educate people about this issue and hopefully change and possibly save some lives. I think that is why it was the right choice."
There are no runner-ups for this award -- it's explicitly stated as a matter of policy. Lauren, Noah, and Caitlyn, they are all heroes in different ways. They all appeal to different parts of our patriotism, our humanity, and our values. But as we step back and realize their impact collectively -- they have all transcended their sport. They have made millions of lives better. Inspired millions. Saved millions. But, this isn't an award measured in statistics and the ultimate recipient does not, by any means, diminish the courage of others. Which then leads me to ask why we feel the need to diminish others so that we can validate our own personal preference, choice, or cause?
I want inclusiveness. I want compassion.
To validate one hero by diminishing another is ultimately the result of insecurity and ignorance. Let's celebrate all of our heroes. Jenner unified a nation in 1976 and may be the best athlete of our time. But more importantly, is the bravery and courage of Caitlyn Jenner. Let's celebrate the fact that her transition means that a transgender individual will go to sleep tonight feeling a little less alone. Let's sleep tighter knowing that Caitlyn Jenner's struggle and triumph has provided hope to those who are suicidal at this very moment.
Caitlyn remarked, "It's been eye-opening, inspiring, but also frightening. All across this country, right now, all across the world, at this very moment, there are young people coming to terms with being transgender. They're learning that they are different and they are trying to figure out how to handle that, on top of every other problem that a teenager has...they're getting bullied, they're getting beaten up, they're getting murdered and they're committing suicide.
My plea to you tonight is to join me in making these issues your issues as well. How do we start? We start with education. I was fortunate to meet Arthur Ashe a few times and I know how important education was to him. Learn as much as you can about another person to understand them better.
"It's about what happens from here. It's not just about one person, it's about thousands of people. It's not just about me, it's about all of us accepting one another. We are all different. That's not a bad thing, that's a good thing and while it may not be easy to get past the things you do not understand, I want to prove that it is absolutely possible if we only do it together... trans people deserve something vital. They deserve your respect. And from that respect comes a more compassionate community, a more empathetic society, and a better world for all of us."
It's time for a more inclusive and compassionate society where we lift others up rather than diminish them. Even one suicide is too many and we can and should all be a part of the solution.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.