After 2020-21 sports were dominated by bubbles, cancellations and shortened seasons, the 2021-22 year in sports bounced back strong with some of the best competition we’ve ever seen. Those amazing moments were highlighted on Wednesday night at the 2022 ESPYS.
ESPN’s annual awards show recognizing the best athletes and moments of the year was hosted by Golden State Warriors superstar Steph Curry, who was surprisingly funny.
He kept the show moving and had fun with his fellow athletes, but never got mean-spirited. The NBA Finals MVP also picked up awards for Best Record-Breaking Performance for passing Ray Allen with the most 3-pointers made in NBA history and Best NBA Player. Plus, his Warriors took home the night’s biggest award for Best Team.
What really made the show a joy to watch was how it highlighted the accomplishments of all the spectacular women athletes. Swimming gold medalist Katie Ledecky won Best Athlete, Women’s Sports and record-breaking college softball champion Jocelyn Alo took home Best College Athlete, Women’s Sports.
The highlight of the night was a beautiful tribute to the 50th anniversary of the passing of Title IX. Country star Mickey Guyton performed her hit “Remember My Name,” while some of the greatest women athletes of all time, including tennis pioneer/activist Billie Jean King, basketball Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie, Olympic gold medalist Chloe Kim, former WNBA player Layshia Clarendon and Megan Rapinoe, spoke about the importance of the law.
The always badass Rapinoe used her Best Play acceptance speech to advocate for the release of Brittney Griner. The soccer star told everyone to enjoy the evening and celebrate themselves, but then get back to work pushing for Brittney’s release. She encouraged the powerful figures in attendance to use their platforms to keep the WNBA all-star’s name present in people’s minds.
There was also a poignant moment where Curry, the Los Angeles Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike and Griner’s Phoenix Mercury teammate Skylar Diggins-Smith spoke about how important it is to bring Brittney home. As they recounted the two-time Olympic gold medalist’s plight, photos of Brittney from her Russian detainment were shown behind them.
“It’s been 153 nights that BG has been wrongfully detained thousands of miles away from home. Away from her family, away from her friends, away from her team,” Diggins-Smith said. “All throughout that time, we’ve kept her in our thoughts and in our hearts. Even though we know, that ain’t nearly enough to bring her home y’all.”
Brittney Griner has been wrongfully detained in Russia since Feb. 17. She was stopped at a Moscow airport, where police say they found vape cartridges containing hash oil in her luggage. The WNBA champion pleaded guilty to drug charges that could lead to 10 years in prison. As rumors of a possible prisoner exchange make news, Griner’s trial has been adjourned until July 26.
“We urge the entire sports community to continue to stay energized on her behalf. Brittney isn’t just on the Phoenix Mercury, she isn’t just a member of her team in Russia, she isn’t just an Olympian. She’s one of us, the team of athletes in this room tonight and all over the world. A team that has nothing to do with politics or a global conflict,” Curry said.
“We cannot stop fighting for her. We cannot stop believing for her. And we will not stop hoping for the day when we can welcome her home safely,” he added.
It’s worth noting that while the show itself was fantastic, things weren’t all sunshine and rainbows. Prior to the festivities on Wednesday night, ESPN found itself in hot water after it was revealed that several female nominees did not get invited to the big event.
Per Insider, NWSL player Nicole Baxter tweeted about how her NY/NJ Gotham teammate Caprice Dydasco wasn’t invited.
“In what world would @espn nominate Cappy for best NWSL player and then tell us that category is not invited to the ESPYS????????” Baxter wrote on Twitter. “The constant disrespect for womens sports SMH.”
South Caroling basketball star Aliyah Boston, who was nominated for Best College Athlete, Women’s Sports, also didn’t get an invite—a snub her coach Dawn Staley did not appreciate.
“Like really….who in the room from @espn @ESPYS decided it was a great idea not to invite @MarchMadnessWBB NPOY DPOY….not one person was able to see the uproar this would cause?” Staley wrote on Twitter. “There’s definitely something wrong with the make up of the room……the fight continue….#WBBSTANDUP,”Staley tweeted.
ESPN claimed it was “COVID restrictions” and a new venue, Hollywood’s Dolby Theater, that led to the reduced invitations. Yet they seemed to have plenty of room for nearly every single member of the Warriors and Los Angeles Rams.
As great as it was to see all the amazing women on stage Wednesday night, it’s pretty clear ESPN still doesn’t see men’s and women’s sports as equal.
Notable ESPY Winners:
- Best Championship Performance: Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams
- Best Breakthrough Athlete: Eileen Gu, Skiing
- Best Athlete, Women’s Sports: Katie Ledecky
- Best Athlete, Men’s Sports: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
- Best Record-Breaking Performance: Stephen Curry most 3-pointers made in NBA history
- Best Play: Megan Rapinoe Scores from the Corner
- Best Comeback Athlete: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
- Best Team: Golden State Warriors
- Best College Athlete, Men’s Sports: Bryce Young, Alabama Football
- Best College Athlete, Women’s Sports: Jocelyn Alo, Oklahoma Softball
- Best NBA Player: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
- Best WNBA Player: Candace Parker, Chicago Sky
- Jimmy V Award for Perseverance: Dick Vitale
- Arthur Ashe Award for Courage: Vitali Klitschko
- Pat Tillman Award for Service: Gretchen Evans