2015 ESPYs Honor Women In A Great Way & Finally Put Female Athletes In The Spotlight

It's unfortunate how often women are overlooked in sports — just ask the U.S. women's soccer team, who earned less for winning the World Cup than any male team did for just participating last year — but Wednesday night showed that the industry is taking a small step forward. The 2015 ESPYs honored female athletes from their first few moments, showing many women's accomplishments in the opening montage and kicking off what would prove to be a great night for women. The ESPYs already seemed like they'd be an inspiring night, since Caitlyn Jenner is receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, but they managed to totally exceed my expectations.

Host Joel McHale took time to highlight the achievements of female athletes this year in his opening monologue, and the way he transitioned into that part of his speech was utterly hilarious. After dishing out a few jokes, McHale referenced two reports of NFL players losing their fingers to firework accidents and then said, "you know who’s not dumb enough to hold a lit firework? All women." From there, the host began discussing all of the great things women have done in sports recently, recapping how the University of Connecticut women's basketball team has won the NCAA championship three years in a row, Carli Lloyd scoring hat trick in the World Cup, Serena Williams being on her way to a calendar year grand slam, and saying that Ronda Rousey "may be the most dominant athlete." And things only got better from there.

Mo'ne Davis & Ronda Rousey Beat The Boys

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Little League baseball player Mo'ne Davis won Best Breakthrough Athlete, beating out her three male competitors. And that wasn't the only category in which a woman won over the other male nominees — earlier in the night, it was revealed that Rousey won Best Fighter, against men like Floyd Mayweather and Terence Crawford.

Lauren Hill Tribute

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There was also a touching tribute to Lauren Hill, a Mount St. Joseph basketball player who passed away in April due to a rare form of brain cancer, as reported by Cincinnati.com. Her dream was to play college basketball and the college moved up their first game of the season so that she could participate. NBA player Stephen Curry introduced a moving video showing Hill's story, which was followed by a short speech from her parents, who encouraged anyone watching, regardless of their own health status, "to kick cancer's butt" and "never give up."

Ronda Rousey's Acceptance Speech

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Though her first award may have been given out before the ceremony began, the MMA fighter was still able to give an acceptance speech thanks to her win for Best Female Athlete. When she took the stage, Rousey gave a sweet shoutout to her fellow nominees, saying, "I wanted to thank all the women that are nominees here, for being the change we want to see in the world." It was great to see her not only honor the other athletes nominated against her, but acknowledge that the world does need to change — especially the world of women in sports.

Leah Still Gets The Jimmy V. Perseverance Award

For a few minutes, there couldn't have been a dry eye at the ESPYs or watching at home, as NFL player Devon Still accepted the Jimmy V. Perseverance Award on behalf of his daughter, Leah. She may only be five, but Leah is definitely an inspiring girl, and her story of overcoming cancer at such a young age certainly deserved this time in the spotlight. LeBron James introduced a video telling Leah's story, which was followed by Devon's beautiful speech, as well as the above video message from Leah, who is in remission but unable to travel due to her stem cell treatments, according to Sports Illustrated. Almost immediately, #LeahStrong started trending on Twitter, showing just how many people were touched by her strength, optimism, and of course, perseverance.

Caitlyn Jenner Receives The Arthur Ashe Courage Award

In one of the night's most anticipated moments, Caitlyn Jenner was honored for her many achievements, both in sports and in other aspects of her life. The tribute showed her 1976 Olympic gold medal win for the decathlon, the respect she's earned in the wake of that accomplishment, and her more recent work as an advocate for the transgender community. Jenner delivered a beautiful speech that highlighted the many issues facing the community, and called for everyone watching to join in her mission for equality and respect.

U.S. Women's Soccer Wins Best Team

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The biggest award of the night was a very competitive category, pitting these six teams against each other: New England Patriots, Connecticut Huskies, Golden State Warriors, Chicago Blackhawks, Ohio State Buckeyes, and U.S. Women's Soccer. In an amazing upset, the only female team represented, U.S. Women's Soccer, took home the prize, which they so clearly earned. It was the perfect end to a night that celebrated women continuously, and I hope we see just as much recognition for female athletes at next year's ESPYs.

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