The Arthur Ashe Award for Courage is one of the annual highlights of the ESPN ESPY awards, honoring a sports-related person that has made a significant humanitarian contribution in a given year. Here is the latest news about some of the previous winners and what they have been doing recently:
- After winning the Arthur Ashe Award in 1994, former Major League Baseball umpire Steve Palermo served as honorary commissioner for a Tee Ball game in which children with physical disabilities participated at the White House as part of President George W. Bush’s White House Tee Ball initiative. Currently, he serves as Chairman of Assurant Employee Benefits’ WillReturn Council, which documents and helps with the efforts of disability claimants in returning to productive lives after serious injuries. He also works as a major league supervisor of umpires in addition to giving motivational speeches.
- Special Olympic champion Loretta Claiborne did not slow down after winning the Arthur Ashe Award in 1996, winning a gold and silver medal in the 1999 Special Olympic world games in running events, followed by a gold and bronze medal for runs in the 2003 games and a silver medal in figure skating at the 2005 winter world games. In 2000 a movie about her life, The Loretta Claiborne Story aired on ABC and the following year she spoke before the US Senate Appropriations Committee about “Disparities in Health Care for the Mentally Disabled.” In 2007 she joined the Special Olympics Board of Directors and continues to inspire and connect with others.
- In 2005, 1997 award-winner Muhammad Ali and his family opened the non-profit Muhammad Ali Center in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to exhibiting his boxing memorabilia, the center also emphasizes the ideas of peace, social responsibility, respect and personal growth. In addition to the 2001 movie Ali about his life starring Will Smith, the documentary I Am Ali was released in 2014. He recently celebrated his 73rd birthday on January 17th and just signed a deal to produce a Muhammad Ali product line with Under Armour this month.
- Tennis legend Billie Jean King has continued to be honored since receiving the Arthur Ashe Award in 1999. Some of these honors include: receiving an award from GLAAD in 2000, induction into the California Hall of Fame in 2006, receiving the Champion of Justice Award from the Public Justice Foundation in 2007, and being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. She has been very active on behalf of the Women Sports Foundation and Elton John AIDS Foundation. She has also appeared as a guest star on the television shows Law & Order and Ugly Betty. Late last year she launched the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative based around the tenets Lift, Learn and Lead to promote diversity and inclusion in the workforce.
- Olympian Cathy Freeman continued to compete in 2002, after receiving the Arthur Ashe Award in 2001, although she retired soon thereafter in 2003. She became an Ambassador for both the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation and Cottage by the Sea, one of Australia’s oldest charities. She was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2005 and the following year she participated in a four-part television documentary Going Bush wherein she and actress Deborah Mailman took a road trip, stopping in Indigenous communities along the way. She married James Murch in 2006 and welcomed a daughter, Ruby Murch in 2011. In 2007 she founded the Cathy Freeman Foundation to address and diminish the education gap between indigenous and non-indigenous children.
- In 2008, 2003 co-winner Kevin Tillman published The Transparent Pillage, using a children’s book format to present the events that led the US to invade Iraq in 2003. An outspoken critic of President George W. Bush and of the Iraq War, he also facilitated and promoted the 2010 documentary The Tillman Story by Amir Bar-Lev about the death of his brother, co-winner Pat Tillman, and the reticence of the military to reveal the circumstances of his death.
- 2004 Arthur Ashe Award winner and former soccer star George Weah, who is leader of Liberia’s largest opposition political party Congress for Democratic Change, was elected to the Liberian Senate in December, 2014.
- The children’s book Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah about 2005 co-winner Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, was published in early 2015. It shares his inspirational story and message that disability is not inability with young readers and also mentions his current work on behalf of the disabled with his organization Emmanuel’s Dream. His co-winner, Jim MacLaren passed away in 2010.
- Shamila Kohestani, who was co-winner of the Arthur Ashe Award in 2006, enrolled at Drew University in New Jersey as the first scholarship recipient of the Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund, graduating in 2012. She now works in Washington, DC at the International Republican Institute based, a United Nations partner organization that works to “expand freedom throughout the world” by assisting political party and candidate development, civil society development, women’s and youth leadership development and encouraging good governance, political expression and electoral reform and election monitoring. Her co-winner was Roia Ahmad.
- Trevor Ringland and David Cullen won the Arthur Ashe Award in 2007 for their work with PeacePlayers International. Since then, Ringland has become involved in North Ireland politics, first with the Ulster Unionist Party and then joining the NI Conservatives. From 2013 through 2014 he served as Co-Chairman of the NI Conservatives.
- In December of 2014 the actions of 2008 winners John Carlos and Tommie Smith were recalled when five football players on the St. Louis Rams came onto the field with arms raised in the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gesture as a silent protest about the Ferguson grand jury decision in the Michael Brown case. John Carlos spoke up in support of the protest saying, “They may be under contract to play football, but greater than that, they have a right to care about humanity.”
- In 2011 Ed Thomas’ Family, the 2010 winner, and Mark Tabb published The Sacred Acre: The Ed Thomas Story, a book about Thomas’ life and values.
- Dewey Bozella, who continuously maintained his innocence during the 26 years while he was unjustly imprisoned for murder, walked free in 2009 but only recently came to a settlement with Dutchess County in the lawsuit over his wrongful incarceration. When he was released, the judge had found that prosecutors relied heavily on the testimony of two men seeking better deals for their own crimes who had altered their stories repeatedly. Additionally, the prosecutor was found to have not released important evidence to the defense. Bozella received the Arthur Ashe Award in 2011. In mid-February the County Legislature authorized his $7.5 million settlement payment, which he will receive in the near future (his lawyers at WilmerHale took the case pro bono).
- On December 7th, 2014—exactly forty years after 2012 winner Pat Summitt coached her first women’s basketball game for the University of Tennessee—her son Tyler Summitt coached his first home game for Louisiana Tech. Summit was there to watch the team win, a recently converted Techster fan after decades of viewing them as an opponent.
- 2013 winner Robin Roberts continues to co-host Good Morning America on ABC and recently co-hosted ABC’s Oscars Pre-Show. Additionally, in 2014 she published Everybody’s Got Something, a memoir that recounts her personal battles and emphasizes her mother’s saying to “make your mess your message.” That same year she also hosted the AALC’s Inspiration Awards Gala.
- Michael Sam shot to fame when he came out toward the end of his time at Mizzou as a college football player. While some criticized this as a distraction from his playing, he was selected 249th overall by the St. Louis Rams in the 2014 NFL draft, making him the first openly gay player to be drafted in any major American sport. He received the Arthur Ashe Award later that year. However, after training camp and playing in the first four preseason exhibition games, he was released from the Rams. At the end of the year, the documentary “Michael Sam” aired on OWN followed by an interview with Sam by Oprah Winfrey. But starting March 16th, he will be competing weekly again: this time on the popular “Dancing with the Stars” program on ABC. He will join other stars such as singer Patti LaBelle, Olympic-winning gymnast Nastia Liukin and actress Suzanne Somers.
- Lastly, former University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith recently passed away on February 8, 2014 after suffering from Alzheimer’s. He was head coach from 1961 to 1997, winning 879 games (the most at the time of his retirement) and two national championships in 1982 and 1993. He also coached the US Olympic team to gold in the 1976 Montreal games. More than just a coach, he was a man of principles: teaching his players to work together as a team, honor their word and value their educations (Over 95% earned their degrees); helping to desegregate Chapel Hill restaurants when he first arrived in 1958; and recruiting the first African-American on an athletic scholarship to UNC. He was also an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, the death penalty and nuclear weapons. He received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage and was named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year upon his retirement. President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
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