Robin Roberts surely knows what a homecoming feels like.
The weekday co-anchor of ABC’s “Good Morning America” has had a number of them in the past year, given the bone-marrow transplant she underwent. However, her receipt of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at Wednesday’s (July 17) 2013 ESPYs was particularly emotional for a number of reasons.
Not only did ESPN give Roberts her first national platform as a broadcaster — from 1990 to 2005, before “GMA” made her Diane Sawyer‘s co-anchor — the late tennis icon Ashe was “a dear, dear friend” of Roberts, she said, adding a lesson she learned from him: “It’s not so much what we accomplish, it’s what we’ve overcome that you remember the most.”
In a filmed introduction, First Lady Michelle Obama noted, “Robin has inspired all of us” and cited Roberts’ “deep respect and kindness toward everyone.” LeBron James then picked up the presentation to “the most beautful, strong woman I’ve ever been around” live on the ESPYs stage at Los Angeles’ Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE. He recalled that as a youngster, he watched Roberts on “SportsCenter” and was fortified to pursue his own athletic dreams.
A filmed package appropriately featured Roberts’ reflections on personal courage, with her newscaster sister Sally-Ann (“my donor,” Robin termed her in her speech) relating the family credo: “You are a Roberts, and you can do this.” Robin added her thought from early in her ESPN tenure, “If I failed, it was less likely that somebody who looked like me was going to be hired.”
Roberts’ emotional “GMA” coverage of Hurricane Katrina’s impact on her native Mississippi also was showcased, with Sawyer reflecting that “great reporting is the power of connection.” Sawyer later was shown by Roberts’ side at the “GMA” desk when the latter revealed to the audience, in 2007, that she had breast cancer.
And then came footage of her 2012 announcement, while seated on the familiar couch with her “GMA” colleagues, that she had myelodysplastic syndrome. Memories of her mother’s subsequent passing followed … all testifying to Roberts’ courage and what she recalled as people’s reaction of, “How much more can this woman take?”
“GMA” news anchor and fellow ESPN alum Josh Elliott accompanied an initially composed and ever dignified Roberts to the stage, and she called receiving the honor “a moment I couldn’t even begin to dream of. I really wanted to be a pro athlete, but there’s something called ‘ability’ that you must have.”
Support is something else Roberts believes is necessary, and she thanked those who have supported her latest health battle for “every kind word of support, every tweet, every e-mail … (those) who let me know they were thinking about me and praying for me. You give me the courage to face down any challenge.”
Top Disney/ABC executives Robert Iger and Anne Sweeney also were singled out for thanks from Roberts, who reasoned, “Everybody’s got something.” And she mentioned her pride in being “a symbol of ‘This too shall pass.'”
If it’s inconceivable Roberts could get through the segment without some tears, those came when she recalled college basketball coach Jim Valvano — the first recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award — and what he achieved by launching his V Foundation for Cancer Research with the memorable appeal, “We need your help. I need your help.”
Valvano would die of cancer two months later, but Roberts said that 20 years later, “because of everyone who has responded to his challenge, mine is one of the lives that’s been saved. And now, I ask you to save someone else” via the Bone Marrow Registry, for which Roberts has advocated regularly.
And thanking her “ABC and ESPN families” by saying, “I may have my sister’s DNA, but you will always have my heart,” Roberts then strode off the stage arm-in-arm with “King James” … to a standing ovation.