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Caitlyn Jenner seen leaving 'An American in Paris' Broadway show in a bright blue lace dress on June 30, 2015 in New York.
Josiah Kamau — Getty Images/BuzzFoto

ESPN has explained its controversial decision to give one of the most prestigious awards in sports to Caitlyn Jenner, the long-retired Olympic athlete who came out as a transgender woman earlier this year.

The announcement that Jenner would receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at this year’s ESPYs Awards was met with some criticism, with sportscaster Bob Costa calling it a “crass exploitation play” designed to boost ratings.

But two ESPN executives, ESPYs co-executive producer Maura Mandt and ESPN senior vice president Connor Schell, publicly defended the honor in an interview with Sports Illustrated.

“Bruce Jenner could have easily gone off into the sunset as this American hero and never have dealt with this publicly,” Mandt said of the decision. “That is what the Arthur Ashe Courage Award is about, somebody from the athletic community who has done something that transcends sport.”

Read the full story at Sports Illustrated.

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