It may not be the Oscars, the Golden Globes, or the Grammy’s but the annual ESPY Awards are the closest event that unites all of American sports. It’s the one night where the superstars from each sport are all in the same building, and receive awards based on voting from the general public. Since anyone can vote, the awards show suffers the same malady that many All-Star Games do: head-scratching selections.
To me, the intriguing category was “Best Comeback” (by an athlete; not team). The nominees were Russell Westbrook, the Thunder guard who tore his meniscus in the 2013 playoffs; Josh Beckett, who reappeared from obscurity by throwing a no-hitter during Memorial Day Weekend; Sidney Crosby, because… Well. I’m not really sure why, considering he won the Ted Lindsay Award (best player in game as voted by NHL players) in 2013; and Dominic Moore, a center for the New York Rangers who returned to the NHL in October 2013 after stepping away from the game for a year and a half after finding out the his wife, Katie, was diagnosed with liver cancer.
Dominic Moore left the San Jose Sharks in the middle of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs after his wife had been diagnosed. On January 7th, 2014, Katie Moore passed away. You can watch the heartbreaking piece that ESPN’s E:60 aired in April for more information, although I suggest with a box of tissues.
Even though it’s becoming easier, and easier for athletes to come back from physical injuries, medicine has not yet advanced far enough to repair a broken heart. While Moore received offers from teams to play in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, he chose not to. He was signed by the Rangers in the summer, and gave the team a fourth-line center who could win faceoffs, forecheck, and play solid defensively. Sure, he might have had as many points (18) as penalties in minutes, but anyone who watched the New York Rangers the past season knew that without their fourth-line (a place usually reserved for rookies, less technically talented players, and those who play hockey as if they were as ruthless as Lord Voldemort), the team might not have made the playoffs at all.
Obviously, the clear choice for fans was to give the award to Westbrook.
Keep in mind that the signature moment at any ESPY Award show is not the actual awards that the fans vote on. Usually, the defining moment is the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. That’s the award Jim Valvano received when he gave his jaw-dropping speech at the first ESPY Award show in 1993. However, last night, the defining moment wasn’t Michael Sam accepting the Arthur Ashe Award. It belonged to long-time SportsCenter anchor, Stuart Scott. Scott first discovered he had cancer in 2007, and while it has gone into remission on two occasions, he has been unable to fully shake the disease. In his acceptance speech for the Jimmy V Award, he revealed that even in the week leading up to the show, he had been in the hospital undergoing surgery.
I suggest you watch his acceptance speech here, again, with that box of tissues I suggested a while back.
ESPN and the V Foundation have had a tremendous impact on cancer research since Jim Valvano started the foundation while he was suffering from the disease in 1993. According to their website, they have raised over $115 million dollars. If there are people in existence who treat voting for the ESPY Awards religiously, they lost a phenomenal chance to connect the stories of Valvano, Scott, and Moore into an emotionally overwhelming evening.
It is true that Dom Moore is practically unrecognizable to the sports world at large. As I’ve said, he’s a player whose role it is to eat up minutes, and not give up goals or take penalties. But etched into the memory of everyone who watched the NHL playoffs is the image of Moore scoring the lone goal in the game that allowed the Rangers to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. He might not score a 100 points in a season like Sidney Crosby (seriously, he was a nominee for this award?), he might not be on SportsCenter‘s Top 10 plays every night for some gravity-defying dunk like Russell Westbrook, and I don’t think he’s ever been accused of drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the locker room like Josh Beckett, but Moore has lived through the same sort of hell that Valvano’s, Scott’s, millions of other families each year live through.
If only that were more important to normal people than alley-oop dunks.