The ESPYs are an annual paradox. Like most award shows, the program overloads viewers with self-congratulations and star-bleeping. But what often saves The ESPYs—or at least makes them tolerable viewing—are the presentation of three awards (Arthur Ashe Courage Award, the Pat Tillman Award For Service and the Jimmy V Perseverance Award) and the moments that come from those presentations.
As was previously announced, Turner Sports reporter and cancer survivor Craig Sager will be honored with this year’s Jimmy V Award, a truly thoughtful choice for a sports broadcaster who has made his two-year fight with acute myeloid leukemia public. Sager detailed his experiences earlier this year in a Sports Illustrated cover story written by Lee Jenkins.
Here’s some news: Vice President Joe Biden will present the award to Sager on Wednesday from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. The show airs on ABC that day, starting at 8 p.m. ET.
“Like Jimmy Valvano, Craig Sager embodies the best of who we are as Americans,” Biden said, in a statement forwarded to Sports Illustrated. “For four decades Craig’s been the go-to-guy on the sidelines for us to better understand a game we love and its place in our culture. But in the real game of life, he’s teaching all of us something bigger—how to live life with purpose, determination, and love. On behalf of all Americans, and cancer patients and their families who he inspires every day, I’m honored to be presenting Craig with an award that reminds us as a nation that we can never give up in our fight to end cancer as we know it.”
Maura Mandt has been associated with The ESPYs nearly as long as the show itself. She started with the program as a production assistant in 1996—Year 4 of the show—and is now its co-executive producer. While Mandt is not a full-time employee of ESPN, her production company, MaggieVision Productions, has produced the show since 2006. When decisions are made about The ESPYs, including the special awards handed out during the presentation, Mandt is the person at the center of those decisions.
In an interview this week, Mandt said that she and the V Foundation—which had previously worked with Biden—sent a letter to his office on May 25 asking if Biden would consider presenting Sager with the award. “The idea of having the Vice President present came after the State of the Union [last February] when it was announced he would be at the helm of ‘Moonshot,’ the effort to find a cure for cancer,” Mandt said. “That is the goal of the V Foundation and the show. On top of that, Vice President Biden has been personally affected by this disease with the tragic loss of his son, Beau. We felt that his commitment to fighting this disease and also the way he has spoken of being inspired by his son’s valiant fight against it would make him a powerful presenter of the award.”
Mandt said she consults with ESPN president John Skipper and ESPN Films exec Connor Schell (who oversees the ESPYs for the company) on the ESPYs’ signature honors. Whereas ESPN received heaps of criticism and praise last year for giving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to Caitlyn Jenner, Sager being honored has drawn universal acclaim. There might not be a more popular person in NBA circles.
Mandt said she told Sager last Thursday about Biden presenting him as Sager was getting treatment at Houston’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
He had a one-word response.
“Wow,” said Sager.