MSU abuse victims to receive Arthur Ashe Award

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

The hundreds of sexual-abuse victims affiliated with Michigan State and USA Gymnastics will be presented the prestigious Arthur Ashe Courage Award by ESPN.

The award will be presented at ESPN’s annual awards gala, The ESPYs, set for 8 p.m. July 18 in Los Angeles.

ESPN made the announcement Wednesday, pointedly declining to name Dr. Larry Nassar, who was sentenced in February to up to 125 years in prison.

“We are honored to recognize the courage of these women at The 2018 ESPYs, to acknowledge the power of their voices, and to shine a very well-deserved spotlight on what speaking up, fighting back, and demanding accountability can accomplish,” Alison Overholt, vice president and editor in chief of ESPN The Magazine, espnW and The ESPYs, said in a statement. “They have shown us all what it truly means to speak truth to power, and through their bravery, they are making change for future generations.

“By honoring this group who spoke out, we aim to honor all of those who are survivors of abuse.”

The award is named after the tennis great, who died of complications of AIDS in 1993.

The award has been handed out every year since the year of Ashe’s death, and past recipients include the likes of Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, Pat Tillman, Nelson Mandela, Pat Summitt, Robin Roberts and Caitlyn Jenner. The first recipient was legendary basketball coach Jim Valvano, who delivered a memorable speech while battling terminal cancer.

“For 25 years, the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage has been given to those who change the world in important ways, and the future will undoubtedly be different because of the actions of these heroic women,” Maura Mandt, executive producer of The ESPYs, said in a statement. “This tribute will reflect the awe and admiration these individuals deserve.”

It wasn’t immediately known which victims will be present to accept the award and deliver the speech, which usually is the highlight of the show.

Rachael Denhollander was the first victim to speak publicly about Nassar’s abuse. The former gymnast was one of more than 150 victims who spoke at Nassar’s sentencing earlier this year — a stunning and gripping seven-day procession that was at the forefront of the #MeToo movement.

This is the seventh time the Arthur Ashe Award will be presented to multiple recipients in the same year. The first time was in 2002, to four athletes who died aboard United Airlines Flight 93 which crashed in Pennsylvania, after passengers fought the Sept. 11, 2011, hijackers.

In its release, ESPN cited the victims’ “undisputed bravery” in speaking out about the decades of abuse at the hands of a once-highly acclaimed doctor, saying the “strength and resolve these individuals have shown in speaking out has brought the darkness of sexual abuse into the light and inspired many others to speak up about their own experiences.”

On Wednesday, Michigan State and lawyers for more than 300 victims reached a $500-million settlement, perhaps the final chapter in a scandal that rocked the gymnastics and college-athletics community, and led to the resignings of Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon and athletic director Mark Hollis, among others.