Some people might think it’s brave for me to post this blog. Me, I think my wife, headed down to the Ann Arbor Art Fair, armed only with a water bottle and a Visa card, is downright heroic. It’s a judgment call.
That’s why I’m so amused by those who felt the need to vent their spleen about Caitlyn Jenner’s acceptance of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the Espy Awards last night. To begin with, they watched it live last night or clicked on a link to see on-line highlights today KNOWING that Jenner was to be honored.
How do you quantify bravery? Combat soldiers are being held up as the gold standard, as they should be, but is that the only example we can use? We see bravery every day, in every race and social class. Consider a young mother who stands up to a snarling dog to protect her children. Is that brave? It would seem to be. You could also say what she did was instinct and that fear never entered her mind until the conflict was over. I’m not in that mother’s head. Additionally, I’ve never served in the armed forces, so how am I to know what is bravery and what is efficient military training?
I’ve worked with hundreds of actors over the years, all of whom were willing to do what is most Americans greatest fear…speaking in front of an audience. Knowing what awaits them, they walk out on a stage knowing that the result could be an astounding success or a humiliating defeat. Most actors have experienced both and keep doing it. It is not a life-and-death experience, but it is brave. I know most people would not slot acting as one of the most daring things you could do, but I’ve had police officers (people who go into uncertain situations against unseen and possibly armed opponents) say to me after a show, “I could never do that.”
To me, it’s all bravery. The woman that is wheeled into a delivery room is brave. Who didn’t feel brave applying for their first home loan? Did it take guts to ask your boss for a raise? If you didn’t get the bump in pay, did you make the brave move and start your own business? Another brave act. Speaking up to our parents for the first time requires guts. Asking a girl out on a date takes a certain amount of bravado. Depending on who you are and what you are after, millions of Americans have had a moment worthy of Arthur Ashe’s Courage Award.
Which brings us back to Caitlyn Jenner, who was a gold-medal-winning American hero as a decathlete in the Olympics when she lived as Bruce, a man. Even forty years after that triumph, she had to know that the blowback would be brutal. A person once known as the World’s Greatest (male) Athlete was saying that she wanted the freedom to live out her life in a manner that was in keeping with the image she had always had of herself. Folks, that took guts.
This brings us to my final point, which is…this was an award show. No different than the Emmys, the Oscars, the Grammys, the Tonys and any number of others…a subjective decision on the behalf of a small voting body. Marisa Tomei won a performing Oscar and Peter O’Toole never did. Daniel Day-Lewis had to contort his body and speak in a halting brogue to win the Best Actor award for “My Left Foot” while Jack Nicholson won two for basically playing a caricature of himself (“Terms of Endearment” and “As Good As It Gets”). I will grant you, the criteria wasn’t about bravest, it was about the best, which is also impossible to quantify.
ESPN has lost 3.2 million viewers since Americans began purging their connection to cable television in favor of antenna, Hulu or Netflix. I am one of those who jettisoned subscription television in favor of the alternatives. Yet, by giving the Arthur Ashe award to Caitlyn Jenner, the entire country is talking about ESPN today. I didn’t watch the award ceremony (obviously) and I didn’t click on the highlight clips. I will say that the person who green-lighted giving the Ashe award to Jenner exhibited bravery. It paid off, though. People watched and people are talking. (Late update: This year’s ESPY ratings were up 253% from their previous highest mark).
I’ve never seen the Kardashian reality shows and I don’t have any plans to watch the coming Caitlyn Jenner offering. I know a bit about acting awards, having received a few over the years. While I know that you can’t compare performances, I never turned down an honor. I never missed a chance to say what I wanted to say and I didn’t put the trophy in a closet. It was proof of what I had gone through to reach another point. None of them rank with a Silver Star Medal, of course. An ESPY doesn’t either.
One of the bravest things I’ve ever seen is my father facing down a group of punks who were harassing a street-corner preacher. They don’t give awards for that as far as I know, and if they do, they aren’t on TV. All I know is that stepping into a situation where the outcome is uncertain takes bravery. I have it and you do, too. Let’s all be brave enough to tip our hats to anyone willing to take that chance.