by Julian Spivey
Don’t overreact to meaningless stuff. Don’t overreact to meaningless stuff. Just breathe. Don’t overreact to meaningless stuff.
Ah, screw it!
The ESPYS are dead to me.
On Wednesday night’s (July 13) ESPY Awards – the biggest annual awards for sports handed out by ESPN via a fan vote – the ceremony unveiled the inaugural Icon Award, which makes sense given the rash of recently retire sport superstars.
The first honorees of this special award – not voted on by fans, but bestowed by the network – were Peyton Manning, Kobe Bryant and Abby Wambach, all incredibly worthy choices.
I don’t think there’s anybody out there who could look at these three legendary sports figures and claim they aren’t completely deserving of an Icon Award.
However, in a year filled with iconic sports figures calling it quits the network simply didn’t go far enough and ended up looking disrespectful and shameful in the process.
Manning, Bryant and Wambach should’ve been honored with one more recently retired sports legend by their side – four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon.
Some people might believe I’m making too big of a deal about this. After all, the ESPY Awards are kind of meaningless being the majority of them are fan-voted – meaning the show becomes one giant popularity contest rather than an awards show given to the rightful recipients (the fans don’t always get it wrong, but still).
But, the fact that the Icon Award wasn’t fan-voted, but decided upon by somebody or some panel of bodies at the network makes it all the more shameful.
After all, I’d contend that Jeff Gordon is an all-time greater athlete in his sport, as well as more important to his sport than either of the three honorees.
With his four NASCAR Sprint Cup championships and his 93 career wins, third all-time in the sport, Gordon is the fifth greatest NASCAR driver of all-time in my estimation (behind Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson and David Pearson).
Peyton Manning is likely no better than a top five player all-time at his sport with Jim Brown, Jerry Rice, Joe Montana and Tom Brady all better in my opinion and it’s likely he’s not even No. 5 with guys like Lawrence Taylor, Walter Payton and arguably Johnny Unitas ahead of him.
Kobe Bryant is not generally considered by experts of the NBA to even be a top 10 all-time player, though he’s certainly on the cusp generally coming in around 11th or 12th on most lists.
Abby Wambach is no doubt a top five all-time female soccer player. She might even be the greatest female soccer player of all-time. But, if you were to poll Americans I’m betting more would know the name Jeff Gordon than Abby Wambach. That goes to show the kind of impact on his sport Gordon had.
Again, all three of the players bestowed the Icon Award at the ESPYS on Wednesday night were worthy and should’ve gotten the honor. These all-time rankings in their individual sports aren’t reasoning as to why they aren’t deserving, merely to why Gordon should’ve been honored alongside of them.
I don’t believe it can be argued that Gordon wasn’t a more important figure to his sport than either of the three honorees were to their respective sports. Gordon’s popularity truly helped to grow the sport of NASCAR throughout the ‘90s with the young, good looking driver from the West Coast basically helping to stretch NASCAR out of the “Southern Sport” tag it had going for it for its first 50 years of existence. Without Gordon and the legions of drivers who grew up idolizing him and are now NASCAR superstars in their own right who knows where NASCAR would be today? Whereas with the three honorees their sports haven’t changed overall because of them. Football and basketball were widely popular before Manning and Bryant and will continue to be without them. Women’s soccer may be more popular now than before Wambach, but let’s face it – right or wrong – it’ll continue to only be cared about during World Cup years.
It’s not completely surprising to me that ESPN gave Gordon and in a sense the sport of NASCAR the shaft. Fans of the sport have seen similar things many times in the past. And, there will inevitably be an ignorant response of “NASCAR isn’t a sport.” But, Gordon earned the right to be alongside Manning, Bryant and Wambach on Wednesday night on that ESPYS stage and ESPN looks like a bunch of fools because he wasn’t.