On Monday, Vanity Fair released its June cover which introduced the world to Caitlyn Jenner, the new preferred name for the celebrated athlete formerly known as Bruce Jenner. That same day, ESPN announced that Caitlyn would receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards next month. The ESPY telecast will be Caitlyn's first major public appearance since announcing her transition.
In the days since, argument has erupted online about whether or not Jenner is a deserving recipient of the award. (This is not necessarily a new phenomenon, you can probably imagine most of the things said online about the award's 2014 recipient, out football player Michael Sam.) Most of that argument seems to center around the award's reported "runner up" Noah Galloway, the army veteran/multiple amputee/crossfit celebrity/Dancing With the Stars finalist.
But since when do awards like these have runners up? The President doesn't announce who just missed the cut for the Presidential Medal of Freedom each year. As pointed out by the rumor-busting site Snopes, the idea of Galloway as "runner up" can be traced to a tweet by Boston radio personality Gerry Callahan.
Caitlyn Jenner wins Arthur Ashe Courage Award. And the runner-up is .... pic.twitter.com/DKUdnPT8Gx— Gerry Callahan (@GerryCallahan) June 1, 2015
Though read closely and it's clear that the tweet is less a statement of fact and more a statement of personal opinion. And, as evidenced by the tweet immediately preceding that one, his opinion on Caitlyn Jenner as a whole is slightly suspect.
A 65-year-old woman named Caitlyn? That's just weird— Gerry Callahan (@GerryCallahan) June 1, 2015
Connor Cruise, the son of Tom Cruise, was also critical of the decision, tweeting (and then deleting): "Really?? Winning the AA award for courage?? Ashton is gonna come out and yell PUNK’D." He then defended his comments saying, "Don’t get me wrong. Do what you feel like doing and don’t let anyone stop you. But everyone is taking this way too seriously…There are so many more important things that should be talked about…And SO MANY MORE IMPORTANT PEOPLE that actually deserve an award." Wednesday night he walked back his previous comments even further, tweeting, "Totally twisting what I said, if you read what I said I totally support being happy and am glad she is happy. We just need to as a nation and a world get back to business and making everything a better place."
Nevertheless, Callahan's tweet has inspired a meme that has already been posted thousands of times across various social media platforms.
ESPN has already clarified in a statement to MTV that there is "no such thing as a runner up for the three major awards," referring to the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, the Pat Tillman Award for Service, and the Jimmy V Perseverance Award. ESPN addressed the matter further in a statement:
"The Arthur Ashe Courage Award is meant to honor individuals whose contributions transcend sports through courageous action. Sometimes that courage is demonstrated over the course of a lifetime and sometimes it is demonstrated in a single act that shines a light on an important contemporary issue. At all times, there are many worthy candidates. This year, we are proud to honor Caitlyn Jenner embracing her identity and doing so in a public way to help move forward a constructive dialogue about progress and acceptance."
Those who'd deem Jenner undeserving of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award must not be very familiar with Ashe himself. As the first black man to ever win a Grand Slam title in tennis, the award named for him is given to someone breaking barriers not only within the world of sports but in the larger world as a whole. For a gold medal-winning decathlete — an accomplishment that generally earns one the title of World's Greatest Athlete — to come out as transgender is an important block in bridging the chasm between the world of professional sports and the LGBT community.
ESPN notes in its statement that every year there will be multiple deserving candidates — many people have also mentioned Lauren Hill, the basketball star who raised millions for rare cancer research before succumbing to the disease herself in April. To compare and contrast one person's courage against another's is to reduce their accomplishments to nothing more than a pissing match. However, no one can argue that this moment in time belongs wholly to Caitlyn Jenner — who this week gained one million Twitter followers in just 4 hours, breaking a record — and to her courage.