On Wednesday evening, Caitlyn Jenner was awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award by the ESPYs. Making her first public appearance since coming out as a woman on the cover of Vanity Fair, the Olympic gold medal-winning decathlete formerly known as Bruce came out onstage at L.A.’s Microsoft Theater in an eye-catching Atelier Versace gown. In front of a packed house of superstar athletes—as well as her five celebrity daughters—she gave a rousing 10-minute acceptance speech on her own personal journey and trans acceptance that resulted in not one, but two standing ovations.
“I know people in this room have respect for hard work, for training, for going through something difficult to achieve, something you desire,” she said. “I trained hard. I competed hard. And for that people respected me. But this transition has been harder on me than anything I could imagine. And that’s the case for so many others besides me. For that reason alone, trans people deserve something vital: They deserve your respect.”
Not everyone took the speech so well, it seems.
Early Thursday, Peter Berg, the Hollywood director of films like Friday Night Lights, Hancock, and Lone Survivor, and who created the sports-centric NBC TV series Friday Night Lights, took it upon himself to share a transphobic meme on his Instagram account. Boasting side-by-side photos of Jenner and U.S. Army veteran Gregory D. Gadson, the meme read: “One man traded 2 legs for the freedom of the other to trade 2 balls for 2 boobs. Guess which man made the cover of Vanity Fair, was praised for his courage by President Obama and is to be honored with the ‘Arthur Ashe Courage Award’ by ESPN?”
Gadson served 15 years in the U.S. Army, including deployments to Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and Operation Iraq Freedom. It was during the latter that he lost both his legs to a roadside bomb, becoming a bilateral above-the-knee amputee. He’s since become a motivational speaker and actor, appearing in a sizeable supporting role as a retired U.S. Army colonel in Berg’s blockbuster film Battleship. And before his service career, he played for Army’s football team from 1985 to 1989, serving as co-captain.
If you’ll recall, back when Jenner was announced as the recipient of the Courage Award, a meme circulated that Noah Galloway, an Army veteran turned Dancing with the Stars participant who’d lost an arm and a leg during an IED attack in Iraq, was the runner-up to Jenner for the honor. It was shared by hundreds of thousands of people on social media—only it turned out to be false, with an ESPY representative confirming there’s “no such thing as runner-up” for the Courage Award.