Former heavyweight boxing champion and mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, will be honored with the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the 2022 ESPYS, airing live on July 20 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. The award is given to a deserving member of the sporting world who makes a difference far beyond the field of play, impacting the world in indelible ways.
Klitschko, who has been the city’s mayor since 2014, has been a central figure in his country’s defense since it was invaded by Russian forces in late February. As the capital city endured a weeks-long siege and fought to keep Kyiv under control, Klitschko has served as one of the faces of the Ukrainian resilience inspiring people around the world. Together with his brother Wladimir, also a former heavyweight champion, the Klitschkos pledged to take up arms alongside their fellow citizens, and were leaders in Ukrainians’ remarkable response to the invasion. That response included other boxers out of the nation’s rich tradition of fighting like Vasiliy Lomachenko, the two-time Olympic gold medalist and one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world, and Oleksandr Usyk, a top heavyweight contender, returning home to join defense battalions themselves.
“It is a great honor for me to receive this award,” said Klitschko. “I am convinced that this is a recognition of the courage and inviolability of the Ukrainian people, who have been bravely resisting the Russian aggressor for more than 3 months. This is an award for everyone who defends the independence and freedom of Ukraine.”
The Klitschkos are, perhaps improbably, the sons of a Soviet major general, and grew up boxing in the old Soviet amateur system. Vitali finished his professional career with a 45-2 record, winning a WBO heavyweight title and maybe most memorably fighting Lennox Lewis in a tightly-contested, vicious 2003 bout that had to be stopped due to a deep cut over Klitschko’s eye (and his impassioned pleas to let him keep fighting).
Vitali Klitschko first entered the Ukrainian political sphere in 2006, on a hiatus from boxing, when he ran for mayor of Kyiv and finished second in the election. He would remain politically active even as he returned to the ring, and initially committed to running for president in 2014 before ultimately entering the mayoral race and winning. He’s since become the longest-serving mayor in the city’s history, remaining a prominent figure in the country. That, of course, has continued in wartime, with Klitschko speaking at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland just a few weeks ago, imploring its influential audience that their biggest mistake would be to think that impact of the war in Ukraine is confined to its borders.
“Vitali’s poise and strength as his city and country faces unfathomable tests have far surpassed the incredible resolve he demonstrated as one of boxing’s top heavyweight champions,” said Executive Editor-At-Large ESPN Content, Rob King. “His commitment to the people of Ukraine has been a global inspiration, and his bravery is a prime example of the resilience of the human spirit. It is our privilege to bestow him with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.”
The Ashe Award has become one of the most prominent, prestigious, and talked-about honors in sports, and has recognized global icons like Muhammad Ali and Nelson Mandela, little-known heroes like Zaevion Dobson and Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, sports legends like Pat Summitt and Billie Jean King, and many more.
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The Arthur Ashe Award for Courage
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), Eunice Kennedy Shriver (2017), “Sister Survivors” (2018), Bill Russell (2019), Kevin Love (2020) and Maya Moore (2021).