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ESPN defends decision to honor Caitlyn Jenner

ESPN has faced plenty of skepticism over its decision to give the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to Caitlyn Jenner at "The ESPYs" tomorrow night, conveniently timed for the show's first airing on ABC.

Most notably, Bob Costas, in an appearance on Dan Patrick's radio show, called it "a crass exploitation play, a tabloid play" mostly designed to pump up the ratings.

Maura Mandt, who has been associated with the show since 1996 and now is co-executive producer, told that the move to ABC -- and thus a potentially larger and less sports-specific audience -- played no role in choosing Jenner.

She also said she found Costas' take "disappointing" and strongly denied any cynical motives were at play.

"I think Caitlyn's decision to publicly come out as a transgender woman and live as Caitlyn Jenner displayed enormous courage and self-acceptance," Mandt told SI in her first public comments on the matter. "Bruce Jenner could have easily gone off into the sunset as this American hero and never have dealt with this publicly. Doing so took enormous courage. He was one of the greatest athletes of our time.

"That is what the Arthur Ashe Courage Award is about, somebody from the athletic community who has done something that transcends sport. One of the biggest platforms the Arthur Ashe Foundation has is educational, and I think in this choice we have the opportunity to educate people about this issue and hopefully change and possibly save some lives."

New York Sports