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Caitlyn Jenner's Arthur Ashe Courage Award Selection Explained Before 2015 ESPYs

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistJuly 15, 2015

FILE  - In this July 30, 1976, file photo, Bruce Jenner, of the United States, throws the the javelin during the decathlon competition at the Olympics in Montreal, Canada. Jenner made his debut as a transgender woman on the cover for the July 2015 issue of Vanity Fair.  (AP Photo/File)
Uncredited/Associated Press

Caitlyn Jenner is set to receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award on Wednesday night at the 2015 ESPY Awards. The former Olympic decathlon gold medalist, who was formerly known as Bruce Jenner, came out as a transgender woman this year.

Her selection was met with resistance by some in the sports community. The most high-profile voice to speak out against the decision was NBC analyst Bob Costas, who called it an attempt to bolster ratings during an appearance on The Dan Patrick Show.

"Bruce Jenner, who I did not know well. I always had a cordial relationship with," Costas said. "I wish Caitlyn Jenner well...anyone seeking to find the identity they're comfortable with and live the happiest possible life without hurting anybody. ... I wish Caitlyn all the happiness and peace of mind in the world. However, it strikes me that awarding the Arthur Ashe to Caitlyn Jenner is just a crass exploitation play."

Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated spoke with Maura Mandt and Connor Schell of ESPN to get further context about the choice. Jenner's selection comes after a year in which many possible honorees emerged, including Lauren Hill, whose life will be celebrated during the show, and Noah Galloway.

The ESPN representatives made it clear to SI there was no voting to determine a winner for the Arthur Ashe Award. They stressed that the choice of Jenner does not mean the company is in any way suggesting her act of courage was greater than the rest.

"There are no finalists or people that vote on it. That has never been the case," Mandt said. "That was something that was completely not true, which I know was out in the media."

They also directly responded to Costas' comments, calling them "dangerous."

"This whole story is all about that we get to choose who we are, what we say. That was what Arthur Ashe was about," Mandt said. "So for Bob Costas who is greatly respected to make that statement with authority about this being a crass publicity play, people take that with authority, and that is dangerous."

As for how many people were considered before choosing Jenner, no definitive details were given in the SI interview, and they didn't want to name anybody specifically.

"It is fair to say that at all times there are many, many worthy candidates for this award," Schell said. "I don’t think there were a specific number we were considering at any moment."

The Arthur Ashe Courage Award presentation is one of the high points during every ESPY telecast. It's an extraordinary chance to celebrate a person or people who did something that truly made an impact in the past year.

Some of the past winners include Jim Valvano, who delivered a memorable speech when receiving the first honor in 1993, Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, Pat Tillman and Kevin Tillman, Nelson Mandela and Michael Sam, among other inspirations.

Jenner will join that group Wednesday night, and ESPN is confident her selection is the right one.