The 21st ESPYs aired last night, and while it’s easy to lambast the show for its blatant self-indulgence and unnecessary spending, it’s equally difficult to walk away without feeling emotionally moved. At its best, the ESPYs capture the years best sports drama.
Jay-Z Jay Z said in a recent interview that he only watches sports and HBO, saying of the former, “That’s the only thing that’s real.” More so than the on-court reality — Ray Allen hitting his Game 6 Finals 3, the Chicago Blackhawks clinching the Stanley Cup with 2 goals in 17 seconds — the ESPYs capture the real heart in sports. The human drama of struggle and perseverance and heartache and victory despite. Watch the Robin Roberts video portrait and try not to feel anything. That 10 minute video that aired before she received the Arthur Ashe award for courage will have you reassessing your entire life’s purpose. You’ll complain at least one time less about this excruciating heat wave because Robin is a hero and a warrior who projects inspiration with a mere gaze.
The same goes for Jack Hoffman, the 7-year-old cancer survivor who won the Best Moment award for his 69-yard touchdown run in a University of Nebraska spring game. The same goes for Dick Hoyt, the 73-year-old marathon runner who has been pushing his son Rick, 51 and born with cerebral palsy, in races for 31 years. The two Bostonians were going to call last years marathon their last, but have decided to run one more time.
It’s in this way that the ESPYs redeem themselves year in year out. Some of the joke’s don’t land (see: Jay Pharoah’s Jay Z’s bit below), but those that do, like Bill Hader’s Vladimir Putin impression are imaginative enough to keep the humor afloat. Those vignettes that pull at your heartstrings feel heavy-handed at times, but damnit if they’re not effective. A great story, and great story telling, will trump all campiness and every shortcoming in my book, even if the balance is unfavorable.
I realize this is like declaring somebody a great cook because their dessert knocked your socks off, but it’s the lasting impression that counts. We often selectively remember the positive aspects of a person, event, or occasion, and it’s more than likely that ESPN places emphasis on these emotional moments to do just that, but I can’t even pretend to be mad about it. Not when I’m choked up thinking that Robin Roberts has overcome more in the past two years then I have in my entire (albeit short-lived) life. Sports breeds real life heros and role models, and if the ESPYs get everything else wrong, they at least get that 100% right.