Three Seattle-area sports icons will team up to host an ESPYs that, in keeping with the times, will be unlike any other.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Seattle storm guard Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe of OL Reign, which is based in Tacoma, will co-host the event remotely June 21. But instead of handing out awards for athletic success, the event this year will center on honoring heroism and humanitarian aid.
The three will host the show remotely.
Wilson is no stranger to hosting awards shows, having hosted Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Sports Awards from 2015-17, and he said he jumped at the chance to take part in The ESPYs.
“The ESPYs are always a highlight for me every year, and I’m incredibly honored that they’ve asked me to co-host this year’s special show,” Wilson said in a statement released via ESPN. “Although the sports world is on a pause, Megan, Sue and I hope to shine a light on some of the amazing stories of resilience that we are seeing through this unique time.”
Bird and Rapinoe have both done extensive TV work, with Bird having recently helped out with ESPN’s coverage of the WNBA draft.
“There is so much good being done in the world right now, and The ESPYs are recognizing a sports community whose achievements reach far beyond the court,” said Bird, via ESPN. “I’m proud to be hosting this year’s unique show with Megan and Russell, two athletes I admire for their talent, but more importantly, their compassion in today’s world.”
Said Rapinoe, via ESPN: “The stories we see at The ESPYs each year serve as a reminder of the hope that sports can inspire. I’m looking forward to hosting the show alongside Sue and Russell, and bringing that much-needed hope to audiences this year.”
Bird and Rapinoe are partners who share a residence, which, as The Associated Press put it, will ease some logistics. The Associated Press reported that Wilson’s wife, entertainer Ciara, is also likely to make an appearance.
“We liked the idea of having athletes from diverse sports that represent something for every fan,” show producer Jeff Smith told AP. “We’re finding ways to make this feel really connected to the audience. They’re so ready to reach out to this community.”
The show is typically held in July during the baseball All-Star break, but is being moved up this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Among the perennial awards that will continue to be presented are the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage, the Pat Tillman Award for Service and Jimmy V Award for Perseverance.
But other aspects of the show will change, as there won’t be the usual comedic opening, and award winners will be watching remotely, with the show likely featuring them getting a call informing them that they have won. That involves colluding with family and team members to lure them to a video screen at the appropriate moment.
It’s an approach that appears to mirror how the NFL draft was conducted, with some viewers saying they liked seeing players find out in their homes and surrounded by family members that they had just been selected.
“We really love this sort of pure reaction,” Smith said. “We found ways to really be able to capture it.”
It’s quite a departure from the red-carpet strutting and 5,000 audience members at the show’s longtime home in Los Angeles.
Smith said there’s been a lot to learn in assembling a pre-produced show with everyone in different locations.
“Typically, we are all shoulder to shoulder and looking through cuts and arguing through story ideas,” he said. “We found a different way to connect with each other.”
Shortly before the U.S. shut down because of the coronavirus, the show suffered a blow when longtime executive producer Maura Mandt died unexpectedly at age 53 on Feb. 28.
“I wish we could have done this show together because she would have a really interesting perspective on how we’re doing this,” said Smith, who worked with Mandt at her production company. “This is the first one of its kind. Maura’s signature will always be on this show.”
The ESPYs are typically defined by viral moments rather than viewers remembering who won what. Without a live show, Smith said he still aims to mine those nuggets.
“We’re finding access to athletes and celebrities that in some way will surprise the audience,” he said.
Comedy and music are always part of the show, and Wilson, Rapinoe and Bird will get a chance to show off a sense of humor. However, the host’s usual opening monologue poking fun at athletes and controversy doesn’t quite fit with this year’s theme. In a different time, the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal would have been ripe for the picking.
“On this side of the pandemic, it’s hard to really care about that,” said Rob King, ESPN senior vice president and editor at large.
The show is taking a forward-looking approach rather than lament what the world has endured during the COVID-19 crisis.
“In the not-too-distant future after the show airs, we’ll see a return to live sports that will drive a sense of hope,” King said. “We hope to have this show be really reflective of that.”