Eunice Kennedy Shriver dedicated her life to championing the rights and acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities. Her legacy lives on through Special Olympics, the global movement she founded in 1968 that harnesses the transformative power of sports to empower individuals with intellectual disabilities to become accepted and celebrated members of society.
A Visionary and a Revolutionary
To honor her work and her creation of Special Olympics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver was posthumously honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at The 25th ESPYS Presented by Capital One on Wednesday, July 12. Timothy Shriver, one of Shriver’s five children and Chairman of Special Olympics, accepted the award on her behalf. The award is sponsored by Cadillac.
“My mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, was a visionary, but, more importantly, a revolutionary,” said Timothy Shriver on behalf of the Shriver family and Special Olympics. “Fueled by love and anger, she used sport to break down the barriers, she used fields of play to bring people together, and she opened the doors of inclusion and equality to the most marginalized on Earth. It is now up to all of us to follow the athletes of Special Olympics who can teach us all to accept and include each other.”
Shriver grew up as a member of the Kennedy Family alongside her sister, Rosemary, who had intellectual disabilities. Rosemary’s talents and gifts made Shriver acutely aware of all that people with intellectual disabilities have to offer, but she recognized early on that there were limited programs and options for people like her sister. The pair bonded through sports like football, skiing and sailing, and Shriver appreciated the role sports play in unifying people from all walks of life.
The idea started in 1962 as Camp Shriver, as a summer day camp in the backyard of her Maryland farm. Camp Shriver grew and eventually evolved into Special Olympics, with the first International Special Olympics Games taking place in 1968 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, welcoming 1,000 athletes from 26 states and Canada to compete. Today, Special Olympics is year-round, includes 5.3 million athletes in more than 170 countries, and over 1 million coaches and volunteers, delivering 32 Olympic-type sports and more than 108,000 competitions throughout the year.
A Lifelong Advocate
Throughout her life, Shriver was a tireless advocate for children’s health and disability issues. In 1984, she was honored for her work with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan. Shriver passed away on August 11, 2009, but her legacy lives on through Special Olympics, which will mark its 50th anniversary next year.
"The effort that Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her family have been displaying for these past five decades is truly remarkable,” said ESPYS executive producer Maura Mandt. “We are honored to celebrate Eunice’s work and the bravery of the athletes of Special Olympics, whose efforts and performances are as inspiring as any of those we celebrate on this show. It’s stories like this one that show what the ESPYS are really about."
Added Connor Schell, ESPN senior vice president and executive producer, original content, who oversees The ESPYS: “Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s legacy is remarkable, far-reaching and still growing. As a proud global supporter of Special Olympics for over 35 years, ESPN has had the privilege of showcasing a small slice of her work to fans and families around the world, allowing many of us to witness first-hand the incredible impact she has had on millions of people.”
Presented annually to individuals whose contributions transcend sports, the award recognizes those individuals who embody the spirit of the trophy’s namesake, tennis legend Arthur Ashe, who dedicated his life to human rights advocacy. The 25th ESPYS, hosted by five-time NFL MVP and two-time Super Bowl champion Peyton Manning, will air live on Wednesday, July 12, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Tickets are available for public purchase at AXS.com. For additional ESPYS news and information, please follow the official Twitter handle: @ESPYS.
The Arthur Ashe Courage Award
The Arthur Ashe Courage Award is presented each year to individuals whose contributions transcend sports. Past honorees include: Jim Valvano (1993); Steve Palermo (1994); Howard Cosell (1995); Loretta Claiborne (1996); Muhammad Ali (1997); Dean Smith (1998); Billie Jean King (1999); Dave Sanders (2000); Olympian Cathy Freeman (2001); Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick, four passengers who lost their lives September 11 on United Flight 93 (2002); Pat and Kevin Tillman (2003); Liberian-born soccer legend George Weah (2004); disabled athletes Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah and Jim MacLaren (2005); Afghan female athletes (2006); and Trevor Ringland and Dave Cullen for their work with PeacePlayers (2007); U.S. Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos (2008); former president Nelson Mandela (2009); the Thomas family of Parkersburg, IA (2010); boxer Dewey Bozella (2011); women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt (2012); Robin Roberts (2013), Michael Sam (2014), Caitlyn Jenner (2015), Zaevion Dobson (2016).
About Special Olympics
Special Olympics is a global inclusion movement using sport, health, education and leadership programs every day around the world to end discrimination against and empower people with intellectual disabilities. Founded in 1968, and celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, the Special Olympics movement has grown to more than 5 million athletes and Unified partners in more than 170 countries. With the support of more than 1 million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers 32 Olympic-type sports and over 108,000 games and competitions throughout the year. Special Olympics is supported by individuals, foundations and partners, including the Christmas Records Trust, the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics, The Coca-Cola Company, United Airlines, The Walt Disney Company and ESPN, Microsoft, Lions Clubs International, Bank of America, Essilor Vision Foundation, the Golisano Foundation, Safilo Group, and TOYOTA. Click here for a full list of partners. Engage with us on: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and our blog on Medium.