caitlyn-jenner vanity fair

Caitlyn Jenner in Vanity Fair

*Right before closing my eyes on Sunday night, an email blast from E! News appeared in my in-box announcing that Kanye and Kim Kardashian-West were expecting their second child. What glorious news. Children are a blessing. These hourly Katrashian (no, that’s not a typo) updates, however, are not.

On Monday morning I woke up to the news that Bruce Jenner had changed his name to Caitlyn, had breasts and was on the cover of Vanity Fair wearing a winter white corset. My first reaction was wow, she looks a lot like Cindy Crawford. On closer inspection, however, she looked more like Jessica Lange. Mostly, I was impressed by Annie Leibovitz’s photograph of Jenner. That woman could make a dead cockroach look good.

About 30 minutes after that news I got an ESPN press release saying that Caitlyn Jenner would be receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY’s next month.

OK.

While I truly appreciate how difficult it is to transition from a man to a woman and don’t condone the ridicule that usually accompanies this life-altering decision, I emphatically don’t support ESPN’s choice to honor Jenner. It’s not about her being a part of the Katrashian circus and using that platform for financial gain, it’s simply that I cannot answer this one burning question.

What has she done to deserve it?

Tommie Smith and John Carlos

When you look at the past honorees, they are all overwhelmingly deserving. There’s Tommie Smith and John Carlos–two African American track stars who helped orchestrate a symbolic protest against racism in the United States by simply raising their fists on the medal stand at the ’68 Olympics in Mexico City. That took courage because their professional careers and personal lives would be forever altered.

And they knew that.

Pat Summitt–the legendary Tennessee women’s basketball coach. Not only did she redefine women’s hoops, but she’s won more games than any other male or female in NCAA history. Sadly, her career was cut short when she was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.

It takes courage to fight that battle.

Nelson Mandela. You know his story.

Billie Jean King–a champion and an activist, who probably did more to level the playing field for women in and out of athletics than any of her contemporaries. She courageously fought the good fight at a time when it was risky to do so.
Totally courageous.

bruce-jenner-and-family

Conversely, Bruce Jenner’s athletic legacy has been severely tainted by his family ties. His role as Mr. Kartrashian, as well as his public transformation, sadly has made him the favorite punching bag for late night talk show hosts for the past few years. That’s truly a shame when you realize that his more significant accomplishments as an athlete and broadcaster have been overshadowed by his supporting role in a reality series. There’s a whole generation of folks who don’t even know about his record-breaking, gold medal-winning performance as a decathlete in the 1976 Olympic Games.

He’s now more famous for being Kendall and Kylie’s dad, Kris’s husband and Kim, Khloe and Kourtney’s stepfather.

But Bruce is gone and Caitlyn, who so far has done nothing more than pose for a magazine cover, is being rewarded for coming out and indirectly polarizing a nation.

That said, it does take courage to put yourself on blast when you’re rolling down the boulevard less traveled even if you’re 65 and wealthy. And yes, Caitlyn will have to deal with America. There will be people that adore her, folks who could care less and them that hate.

That’s the way we roll.

Had Jenner had been actively involved and/or influential in the transgender community I might feel differently about her getting the Ashe award. But there’s no real evidence of that yet. Mostly we’ve seen her in footage from that multi-car accident in Malibu two months ago that left one woman dead; walking out of the nail spa and running errands. Perhaps if Bruce Jenner had not done that two-hour Diane Sawyer interview, signed that contract to do a reality show or hired a publicist to orchestrate all of his announcements before Monday, I might be more supportive of ESPN’s decision.

But again, I just don’t see it even after extensive conversations with scholars and athletes, some of whom argued that Jenner’s coming out party will result in a deeper appreciation for the members of his new family.

The realist in me doesn’t really see that happening either. These discussions on gender and racial equality in America last about as long a Keeping Up With the Kardashians commercial break.

Caitlyn Jenner in Vanity Fair

You can challenge the way a person thinks but you can rarely change their mindset. But this really isn’t about him or her. I’m not hating the playa, I’m hating the game.

This fascination with celebrity routinely creates manufactured heroes and that’s what’s happened here. While Jenner seemingly has the courage of his convictions, he’ll also get paid for it. The better choice for this award would have been Lauren Hill, the fearless collegiate basketball player from Cincinnati who played her heart out with a terminal brain tumor. Before her death nearly two months ago, Hill raised more than $2 million for cancer research and was inarguably the most inspirational athlete of 2015.

But while it appears to some that “the worldwide leader” got it wrong this year, it actually got it right, too. Like Jenner, ESPN will get paid. There’s no doubt that the 2015 ESPY Awards will be a huge ratings success with Kartrashians in the house. Still, I really feel that we should all hit the pause button on Caitlyn.

She doesn’t have to break any records but let’s just give her a minute to make her mark before heaping on the praise.

miki turner

Guest columnist Miki Turner is an award-winning photojournalist, author and professor at the University of Southern California