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Recap: Jenner Soars, Lebron Wears Shades and McHale Gets Whipped at the 2015 ESPY Awards

Ever wondered why has a horse never won an ESPY? Joseph Harper spends a vexed afternoon watching the surreal awards ceremony, and reports back with his findings. 

Yesterday I watched the Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Awards, aka the ESPYs. It was super weird. I’ve never watched the Halberg awards, but based on video highlights and pictures I’ve seen, they seem like the logical conclusion of the netball/rugby/cricket prize giving ceremonies we attended as youths.

The ESPYs wasn’t that. It was three hours of ludicrous self-celebration and apples joyously mashed against oranges. All tempered with extremely emotional and manipulative video packages. It’s an ordeal.

The resulting awards show is essentially the sport version of the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards, but instead of people being hilariously slimed, we got Joel McHale being hilariously whipped and ridden by a cool little jockey man. That should have been obvious though. It’s called “The ESPYs”.

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The very existence of the ESPYs is kind of vexing. Why is there an award for “Best NBA Player”? The NBA has a proper award for that already. Then there are a load more weird awards that seem like they exist in an attempt to supplement the athletics with gravitas and stifle the ‘Sport is for dumb people’ crowd. That seems pointless, because they’re obviously not watching the ESPYs.

The show starts like a normal awards show. Joel McHale from The Soup does a speech where he digs into some classic gags related to the sporting calendar, and they cut away to well-dressed sport heroes (Lebron was wearing sunglasses like Jack Nicholson which seemed, 1: cool and 2: like an obscure dig at the Lakers?) and minor celebrities who are enjoying the ribbing. The best part was when the audience went ape applauding for American Pharoah, the horse that won the triple crown. It wouldn’t be the last time a horse got a near standing-o, but it was the moment I realised how dumb it was to be watching this surreal display in a small window in the corner of my work computer rather than at home and inebriated.

lebron glasses

The first few awards included, “Best Record Breaking Performance” and the “Breakthrough Athlete award”, where old football man Peyton Manning beat out some people who excelled in different sports, and 14-year-old child baseball sensation Mo’ne Davis beat two football men and a golf man.

There was an award for an athlete who also served in the military, which seemed extremely weird but turned out to be a fine and moving speech from a cool lady who played college hoops then went to war and lost an arm. The only real downside is that it prompted much of this kind of shit:

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Next Ken Jeong and drugger hero A-Rod did a very tense sketch where the punchline was Ken Jeong having a funny wee penis. A real downer.

One of the highlights of the show came next when the horse was nominated for “Best Championship Performance”. Clearly the horse was the crowd favourite and obviously deserving of the historic and tasty ESPY glory, but somehow the horse was robbed by greedy old Lebron James who for some reason won even though he didn’t win a championship. It’s crazy to think that it’s 2015 and a horse is still yet to win an ESPY.

Ronda Rousey, the tough fighter who is good at nearly breaking arms won the award for “Best Female Athlete”. It seemed pretty weird that they announced this award so early on and had the “Best Male Athlete” award dead last. Pretty strange/tone deaf scheduling by the ESPY braintrust. Especially considering the night was totally dominated by cool women (Abby Wambach and the USWNT, Tough Ronda, and Caitlyn Jenner).

We were then treated to another moving video package. This time celebrating college basketball player Lauren Hill. Again, social media acted appropriately.

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The show rambled on. Nate Ruess sang what sounded like an Elton John song. Drug god Alex Rodriguez won “Best Comeback” for coming back from a 162 game suspension for his involvement in the biogenesis scandal. Which is fine, I guess. We also got a “sneak peak” of a shitty looking movie which was introduced by Superman and the twins from the Social Network. Derek Jeter got himself a montage set to the ‘I got soul but I’m not a soldier’ song,  which is weird considering Jeets was sort of the very definition of a ‘baseball soldier’ for the ‘Yankee army’.

Cincinnati Bengal, Devon Still gave an extremely poignant speech, detailing his daughter’s battle with cancer. It prompted some more good tweets.

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Finally, the show’s penultimate act, Caitlyn Jenner receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage award, was an undeniable highlight. A long and interesting video package preceded an effervescent speech from Jenner. It was cool.

The final award, Steph Curry winning Best Athlete, felt like a letdown after Jenner (also maybe because the show’s timeslot was rapidly running out). It was fine though.

Overall the ESPYs were mostly stupid, occasionally touching, and very rarely felt like an event with any weight or meaning.