Robin Roberts honored for courage at 2013 ESPY Awards

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – At an event touted as the Oscars equivalent for sports, the person who shined brightest at the 2013 ESPY Awards wasn’t even a current athlete. Television host and former ESPN anchor Robin Roberts stole the show.

She received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, an honor received in past years by notable figures such as Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali. Roberts’ battle with MDS, a rare blood and bone marrow disease, forced the Good Morning America anchor to receive a bone marrow transplant to fight it.

Her incredible recovery and storied career as both a basketball player and award-winning journalist has endeared her to millions. When it was time for Roberts to receive her honor from NBA Champion LeBron James Wednesday night, she immediately heaped praise on others.

“I realize there are many worthy of holding this honor, others who have exhibited far more courage, strength and resilience,” Roberts said shortly after receiving her ESPY. “And it’s humbling for me to represent you tonight.  I draw strength from you. You give me the courage to face down any challenge, to know that when fear knocks to let faith answer the door.”

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Athletes praise Roberts’ spirit, courage

Roberts’ story was not lost on several athletes attending this year’s ESPY Awards. WNBA All-Star Tamika Catchings said Roberts’ impact on female athletes and sports media is hard to top.

“I’ve known Robin since, really my whole collegiate career,” Catchings said. “She would come down to Tennessee and even when I moved on the WNBA – she’s been a staple in my life. I think, more than anything, she’s been an inspiration. She always made want to be a better person.”

Catchings said she read Roberts’ book From the Heart: Eight Rules to Live By, which landed on the New York Times bestseller list. Catchings has been open about how she’s struggled to overcome a hearing impairment and some speech problems.

The 2012 WNBA Finals MVP said Roberts’ own journey was a model for Catchings.

“She’s fought through so much and she remains positive,” Catchings added. “Every single time I’ve had an interaction with her, it’s been positive – and that’s just so important to me.”

Roberts encouraged the audience and those watching at home to join the Bone Marrow Registry. She poignantly thanked her sister Sally-Ann, who was the perfect bone marrow match Roberts needed for her transplant.

Arthur Ashe’s legacy

Roberts dedicated part of her speech to the late Arthur Ashe.

“Arthur Ashe was a dear, dear friend of mine,” Roberts said. “He taught me the importance of using the platform we were blessed to be given to be of service to others. He showed me – he showed all of us – that through his selfless actions off the court.”

Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas, who was nominated for best female athlete along with Serena Williams, Brittney Griner and Missy Franklin, said Roberts is a great example for young girls who have dreams.

“Robin Roberts definitely deserves the [Arthur Ashe] award,” Douglas said. “We did an interview together and an event together. She’s such a joy to be around. I love her.”

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“Robin Roberts is one of my role models,” said Access Hollywood host Shaun Robinson. “She’s the most wonderful spirit, the most courageous woman. I adore her and I am just in awe of the grace and resilience she has displayed throughout her journey.”

Roberts closed her remarks by recalling the words of the original Arthur Ashe Courage Award winner Jim Valvano, who won in 1993.  Valvano struggled and succumbed to cancer almost two months after accepting the ESPY award – but not before inspiring the sports world and establishing the V Foundation for Cancer Research.

Roberts said she is grateful that so many have donated to the cause. Fighting back tears, she told the ESPY audience that she was one of the future lives saved that Valvano had hoped for.

Follow theGrio’s Todd Johnson on Twitter @rantoddj