Dick Vitale Gives Impassioned Cancer Speech At ESPYs, Then ESPN Snubs MLB Cancer-Survivor

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One of the themes of the ESPY Awards is always about cancer research. In 1993, Jim Valvano delivered one of the most iconic speeches in sports at the ESPY Awards in which he talked about his cancer. The speech has been dubbed the “Never Give Up” speech.

ESPN and Valvano teamed together to create the V Foundation; a charity designated to support cancer research. The V Foundation is a major factor in the ESPY Awards and annually this week is known as “V Week” at ESPN, where the company raises money for the cause.

We can crush ESPN for a lot of their decisions and content, but their efforts in cancer research are to be commended. So, too, is ESPN legend Dick Vitale.

Vitale announced in October that he had been diagnosed with lymphoma. Following six months of chemotherapy, he declared he was cancer-free.

Vitale has always been a major contributor for the V Foundation and was good friends with the late Valvano. He was rightfully awarded the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at Wednesday’s ESPY Awards.

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – JULY 20: Dick Vitale attends the 2022 ESPYs at Dolby Theatre on July 20, 2022 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

Vitale used his time to talk about the importance of raising money for cancer research.

“We are not going to stop … chasing the dream of raising dollars … [to fulfill] Jimmy’s dream to beat cancer, and we must do it.” Vitale said. “It doesn’t matter, race, religion, [cancer] will bring you to your knees.”

Then, he delivered an inspirational message to the audience: “Keep chasing your dream, keep chasing your goal … Remember, perseverance plus passion plus pride equals winning in the game of life.”

We can all sign off on that, Dickie V. It was a truly heartfelt and moving moment and many in the crowd were clearly in tears.

So, how could ESPN possibly screw this up? Well, quite honestly, this would have been a great time to end the show on a positive, powerful and uniting message. But that’s not what happened.


The next award that was to be presented – the very next award – was for “Best Comeback Athlete.” It was set up so perfectly; one of the nominees was Baltimore Orioles first baseman, Trey Mancini.

In March of 2020, Mancini announced that he was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer and would miss the entire season.

Just eight months later, in November of 2020, Mancini announced he was cancer-free and would return to the Orioles in 2021. He had a terrific return season and won AL Comeback Player of the Year.

Perfect, right? Cancer research speech right into a cancer survivor not only beating the disease but returning to professional baseball to hit 21 homers. It seemed like a TV producers dream that was set up purposefully.

But that’s obviously not what happened. The award was given to Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson, who missed the 2020 and 2021 seasons with knee injuries, and returned to help the team win the 2022 NBA Finals.


Klay Thompson’s story is a good one; missing two years only to return and help your team win a championship is a great accomplishment. But coming back from knee injuries is common in today’s sports world. Coming back from cancer is not as common.

ESPN presented itself with a layup opportunity to earn good will from everyone. And just like they have many times before, they tripped on their way to the hoop and went stumbling out of bounds, knocking over a fan holding popcorn and a beer.

Written by Dan Zaksheske

Dan began his sports media career at ESPN, where he survived for nearly a decade. Once the Stockholm Syndrome cleared, he made his way to Outkick. He is secure enough in his masculinity to admit he is a cat-enthusiast with three cats, one of which is named “Brady” because his wife wishes she were married to Tom instead of him.

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