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My experience at the 27th ESPYs: Inspired by athletes who know no bounds

Maxwell Surprenant covers the 2019 ESPY Awards at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles on July 10. (Photo courtesy of Maxwell Surprenant)

I love a good game and a good story, and there were plenty of both at the 2019 ESPY Awards. 

The 27th ESPYS was held at Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles on July 10. I traveled from Boston to LA for the prestigious ceremony that honors the best of the best in sports.

Before the show, I talked to attendees about what the event means to them. 

Maxwell Surprenant and Jimbo Fisher, Head Football Coach at Texas A&M University (Photo courtesy of Maxwell Surprenant)

“It’s a celebration of all the achievements, the joy, the excitement, the frustration, and everything people go through, and what makes sports so special throughout the year. It celebrates what sports means to our country,” said Jimbo Fisher, head football coach at Texas A&M University.

The US Women’s National Soccer Team stole the show after winning the World Cup in France. Alex Morgan, team co-captain, achieved Best Female Athlete. Morgan and her teammates represented empowerment, inclusion, and equality for all athletes. 

“Investment in women and girls should not only occur on the playing fields but in more storytelling of badass, amazing women who continue to show that we are more than just athletes,” Morgan said. 

Former NBA and Celtics Star Bill Russel, age 85, received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. Russell is considered the greatest winner in professional sports history with 11 championships in 13 years, but his selection for the Courage Award was based on his bravery and strength while facing endless discrimination as a black athlete.

Russel serves as a role model for generations of black athletes in all sports by insisting on dignity and respect. His activism has led to groundbreaking movements in support of marginalized athletes. 

ESPN honored three athletes who retired in 2019 for outstanding careers. The Best Sports Moment award went to former New England Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski, former World Cup alpine ski racer Lindsay Vonn, and former Miami Heat basketball player Dwayne Wade.

Wade, a long-time veteran of the NBA, delivered an important message: “Sports have given us this platform. Recognize your power, use it to better your communities, and continue to fight for change.”

The ESPYS supports the V Foundation, named for former college basketball coach Jim Valvano, who passed away from cancer soon after the 1993 award ceremony. This year marked a milestone for the V Foundation as donations surpassed $100 million dollars since its inception. The Jimmy V Award is presented to a member of the sporting world who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination. 

Maxwell Surprenant and Rob Mendez, recipient of the Jimmy V Perseverance Award (Photo courtesy of Maxwell Surprenant)

I had the opportunity to meet Robert Mendez, this year’s recipient of the Jimmy V Perseverance Award. I was struck by his passion, strong will, and gratitude. I asked him what the recognition means to him.

“It’s a blessing,” he said.

Born with a rare condition called tetra-amelia, Mendez has no arms or legs. He couldn’t play football, but he has become a fierce and inspiring coach.

After countless setbacks, he was named head coach of the junior varsity football team at Prospect High School in San Jose, California in the summer of 2018. Mendez concluded his acceptance speech with his battlecry: “Who says I can’t? Nobody!”

And that winning spirit just can’t be beat. 


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