Bruce Jenner rose to prominence during the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It was there, during the height of the Cold War tension with the USSR that Bruce won the Decathlon event, taking the title from reigning champion, and Soviet, Mykola Avilov. For his achievements, Bruce was quickly dubbed “the world’s greatest athlete”, adored by millions of Americans, touted by the Republican Party as a model for the American work ethic, and even adorned the Wheaties box. But deep down, he had to live with the shame of knowing it was a lie, without having anyone to talk to about it.
This article is not intended to be a debate about the decision to transition. You have your opinions on the matter, and I have mine. We may agree, we may disagree, and that is wholly irrelevant to the purpose of this article. Whether you agree with the decision or not, it is important that we realize just how important Caitlyn is, and why the concept of "tolerance" is so vital.
Struggling with self-acceptance is an issue we can all relate to in one way or another. Some of us struggle to accept that we love someone of the same gender as ourselves. For me personally, it’s a daily struggle to accept the fact that I was born with Spina Bifida, and the limitations that entails. There are days where my personal situation as a handicapped individual gets me down, there are days where I struggle with the fact that I'll never be looked at as "normal". If you would like to learn more about my condition, the Wikipedia article is a wonderful source of information. For those curious, I have the third type, myelomeningocele.
Caitlyn’s struggle was with feeling that she had been born into a body that didn’t fit who she felt she really was on the inside. For far too many of our youth, this is a daily struggle that they must endure with the added pressures of not being accepted by their family. Not being accepted by their peers. Not being accepted by the media, or even some of their closest friends. For these kids, the ability to look upon the world of sports and see someone they can relate to can make all the difference in the world. The sports landscape is but one area that can make a difference in these children's lives. Many of them want to be able to participate in youth leagues, but have no one at the professional levels to look up to. No one they can relate to. And that is why Caitlyn Jenner is so important.
She, through her transition, can be an example to these children. She can be someone these kids point to on the TV and say "Wow, she used to be in a situation similar to me, and she made it out the other side. Maybe I can, too!” Caitlyn can be an inspiration to thousands of children who otherwise would not see anyone like them on ESPN or any other sports-related telecast. When Caitlyn made that speech at the ESPY's, she was speaking not to you or me, but to thousands of children across this nation. If even one child heard that speech and decided not to end their life, then she's made more of an impact than I can ever hope to make.
The fact of the matter is that suicide rate among the transgender community are astronomical. According to a study done at UCLA, more than 40% of transgender individuals have attempted suicide at some point in their lives. Compare that to 4% among the general population. Children are impressionable, and having athletes they can look up to can make a huge impact on their well-being. Being able to have a sports figure be a hero in their lives may make all the difference between a child who makes it through to adulthood, and one who is yet another tragic statistic.
That is why, whether you agree with the decision to award her the Arthur Ashe Courage Award or not, it is so important that we stop with all the hatred and vitriol and realize that this issue is far more important than a former Olympian and their decision to live their life in a way that makes them happy. The decision to present Caitlyn with that award was, in some small way, a message to children struggling with their identity that there is a place in the sports world for you too, and I feel that's a damn important message to send.
Welcome! My name is Chris Spooner. I am an overly-passionate Dolphins fan who has many opinions about his team, and the sports landscape as a whole. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy voicing them.