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Weah selected for Arthur Ashe Courage Award  

ESPN release

Liberian-born UNICEF Ambassador George Weah, Africa's all-time greatest soccer star who has, at great risk, worked tirelessly to help his war-torn country, will receive the prestigious Arthur Ashe Courage Award -- given to individuals whose contributions transcend sports -- at the 12th annual ESPY Awards Wednesday, July 14 at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre. The event will be televised on ESPN four days later Sunday, July 18 at 9 p.m. ET.

While the honor will celebrate Weah's soccer career, it will primarily focus on his life off the field, highlighting his commitment to humanitarian projects all over Africa as an international soccer star. One example is how Weah has used his name and fame to take guns out of the hands of children to try and help save a generation devastated by war.

Weah, 37, grew up in the impoverished streets of Liberia's capital, Monrovia. In 1987, he left Liberia at age 20 to embark on a successful professional soccer career. Parallel to his soccer career, Weah's charitable work, highlighted by his inspiring return missions to Liberia, has gained him the admiration of many, including former South African president Nelson Mandela, who called Weah the 'African Pride'.

"I'm honored to receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, one of the great awards given for humanitarian reasons," Weah said. "I do believe that together we can help the children of the world, including those in my home country of Liberia. I want to thank the whole ESPN family for bestowing this special honor upon me, the first I've won in America. I'm very excited and can't wait to be at the ESPY Awards."

Ron Semiao, senior vice president, ESPN Original Entertainment, added, "George Weah's story is remarkably inspiring. He has taken the path less traveled and the profound impact of his commitment to international humanitarian causes is reminiscent of the way Arthur Ashe lived his life. They both used their exceptional sports talent as a springboard to help improve the lives of others."

Immediately following the September 2003 implementation of the United Nations Security Council "Ceasefire Agreement" in Liberia and the subsequent departure of tyrant Charles Taylor from Liberia's presidency, Weah joined forces with UNICEF to help address the problem of reintegrating former young combatants -- by-products of the country's 14-year conflict that turned children into soldiers -- into society.

He continued his work in April 2004, counseling child soldiers and getting first-hand experience of UNICEF's post-war rehabilitation of 15,000 Liberian children. Weah had become a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1997 -- working with the UN agency to help fight the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa through education and to promote vocational training initiatives to rehabilitate child soldiers from war-ravaged countries.

One of the most notable aspects of the Weah story, which will be portrayed as part of the July 18 ESPY Awards telecast, is the fact that despite the horrible atrocities committed against him by Taylor's followers (destroying his home, stealing his valued possessions and harming members of his extended family), Weah led the Liberian Men's National Soccer Team (Lone Star) as coach, star player and sponsor. Under his guidance from 2000-2002, he helped turn the Lone Stars into one of Africa's most potent sides with a stretch of nine wins in 10 international matches, including upsets of Ghana and soccer powerhouse Nigeria.

In the process, Weah spent upwards of $2 million to keep the team competitive while Liberia fell deeper into despair from war. He provided chartered flights for the team to away matches, bought tickets for many players to fly from Europe to play for their country and paid players' per diems. Lone Star's success on the field became a national rallying point -- providing the citizens of a fractured country with a distraction and respite from war.

Weah was named FIFA World Player of the Year in 1995 -- the season he led Inter Milan FC to the Italian Serie A championship and won the European and African Player of the Year Awards. Weah was also named the African Player of the Century.

Last year, The Arthur Ashe Courage Award honored Pat and Kevin Tillman, brothers who gave up professional sports careers to serve their country by enlisting in the U.S. Army. (Pat was killed in combat April 22 in Afghanistan). In 2002, the Ashe Award was given to Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick, four passengers who lost their lives September 11th on United Flight 93.

Previous recipients 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) and Olympian Cathy Freeman (2001).

The ESPY Awards
The 2004 ESPY Awards Presented by GMC and Under Armour will bring together athletes and entertainment celebrities to recognize top achievements in sports, relive the memorable moments and salute the best performers and performances. Overall, there are 36 award categories, including both sport-specific honors and awards that cross over all sports (cross-cutters), a unique ESPY Awards hallmark. Actor/comedian Jamie Foxx will host.

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