Since 1993, the Arthur Ashe Courage Award has been presented at The ESPYS to individuals who have shown strength in the face of adversity and stood up for their beliefs. Its recipients have included Jim Valvano, Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, Nelson Mandela and Pat Summitt. The award is named for Ashe, an inspirational tennis star who died in 1993 after contracting HIV from a blood transfusion. After learning he had the disease, Ashe campaigned to raise AIDS awareness.

This year, the award is being given to Michael Sam, who showed courage by coming out as gay before the NFL draft, and made history when he was selected by the St. Louis Rams. In declaring "I am an openly, proud gay man," Sam challenged stereotypes and fostered discussions about locker-room culture, tolerance and bigotry in sports and society.