A tearful Caitlyn Jenner was honored with the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPYs, speaking to a room full of fellow accomplished athletes.
Jenner won the 1976 Olympic decathlon title as Bruce Jenner and publicly announced she was “for all intents and purposes … a woman” on April 24.
Jenner’s Olympic triumph was remembered as part of a 14-minute video feature that played before two-time Olympic champion soccer player Abby Wambach introduced Jenner at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles.
“I know the people in this room have respect for hard work, for training, for going through something difficult to achieve the outcome that you desire,” said Jenner, with long brown hair and wearing a white dress. “I trained hard. I competed hard, and for that people respected me, but this transition has been harder on me than anything I can imagine.”
Jenner teared up when thanking family members as part of an 11-minute speech and closed with this:
“It is an honor to have the word courage associated with my life. But on this night another word comes to mind, and that is fortunate. I owe a lot to sports. It showed me the world. It’s given me an identity. If someone wanted to bully me, well, you know what, I was the MVP of the football team. That just wasn’t going to be a problem. And the same thing goes tonight. If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead, because the reality is, I can take it. But for the thousands of kids out there coming to terms with being true to who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it. So for the people out there wondering what this is all about, whether it’s about courage or controversy or publicity, well, I’ll tell you what it’s all about. 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’re 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 always don’t understand, I want to prove that it is absolutely possible if we only do it together.”
UFC champion and 2008 Olympic judo bronze medalist Ronda Rousey won Best Female Athlete (over Olympic champions Lindsey Vonn and Serena Williams) and Best Fighter (over another Olympic bronze medalist, Floyd Mayweather Jr.).
“Wonder how Floyd feels being beat by a woman for once,” Rousey said in an ESPN red carpet interview. “Like to see him pretend to not know who I am now.”
Vonn was also nominated for Best Comeback Athlete, an award won by New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.