The ESPY Awards may be about celebrating sports icons, but Michelle Obama's 2017 ESPYs speech quite powerfully demonstrated why the work of those honored isn't just about athletic feats; It's about triumphs of the human spirit. The former first lady took the stage on July 12 to present the Arther Ashe Award for Courage to Eunice Kennedy Shriver — the sister of John F. Kennedy — who founded the Special Olympics in 1968. She died at age 88 in 2009, but her son, Timothy Shriver, was there to accept the award, and was joined by several Special Olympians.
Obama spoke about Shriver's ability to push people to believe in themselves, and to make others believe in them, too. "I am here tonight to honor a remarkable woman, a woman who believed that everyone has something to contribute and everyone deserves the chance to push themselves, to find out what they're made of, and to compete and win," she said, going on to praise Shriver's foresight in using "sports to break barriers and change hearts and minds." She added: "Through her passionate service, she made the world more welcoming and fair."
Afterward, a heartfelt video played featuring children recounting how other people's responses to their intellectual disabilities negatively affected their lives, including things like "getting shoved in lockers" at school due to their difference.
The video then explained that Shriver had been inspired to start the Special Olympics because her sister, Rosemary, was born with intellectual disabilities, and at the time, those with disabilities were often institutionalized and marginalized. In response, she began Camp Shriver in 1960, which eventually grew into the Special Olympics.
Timothy Shriver, who now serves as chair of the Special Olympics, also shared some impactful words during his acceptance. He spoke to the ongoing call for equality and those with intellectual disabilities' place in it. "We will not stop until we have equality for 250 million people with intellectual disabilities," he declared, continuing:
"If you're about ending discrimination, if you're about ending fear, then you're for the athletes of the Special Olympics ... And if you think that sports can't do all that, you better tell Eunice Shriver. She bet her life that it could and she won."
It was undoubtedly one of the most emotional moments of the night, and a crucial reminder that change can come from any medium, sports included. Eunice Kennedy Shriver is proof.