There are times in life when it is easier, or even more sensible, to just give up. This isn’t a belief held by this year’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award winner Dewey Bozella. The 2011 ESPYs will celebrate the courage and conviction that lead Bozella to the ultimate path of freedom after 26 years of imprisonment.
Bozella’s early life was one of hardship and turmoil, having witnessed his father beat his pregnant mother to death as a young boy. Foster care and life on the streets defined his youth until he found his calling in the sport of boxing. He showed promise training at Floyd Patterson’s camp and moved from Brooklyn to make a life for himself in upstate New York. He was a talented young fighter and determined to be a good man.
In 1983, Bozella’s life took a dramatic turn when he was convicted of a murder he did not commit. Sentenced to 20 years to life in Sing Sing prison, Bozella maintained his innocence and exhausted every appeal. He was offered more than four separate chances for an early release if he would only admit guilt and show remorse, but Bozella consistently refused to accept freedom under such conditions. Anger at his imprisonment gave way to determination and instead of becoming embittered, he became a model prisoner: earning his GED, bachelors and masters degrees; working as a counselor for other prisoners; and eventually even falling in love and getting married. Through it all, Bozella found strength and purpose through boxing, becoming the light heavyweight champion of Sing Sing Prison.
Unyielding in his innocence, Bozella never gave up fighting in or out of the ring. He wrote to the Innocence Project daily in his quest for a ray of hope. The law firm WilmerHale eventually took on Bozella’s case and uncovered new evidence that exonerated him. After being in prison more than 26 years, he was finally released in October 2009. Today, Bozella devotes his life to helping others, working with a non-profit that helps recently released prisoners rehabilitate back into the world. He has also returned to boxing as a trainer to kids and aspiring fighters, all the while maintaining his dream to fight one professional fight as a free man.
Bozella will accept the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at The 2011 ESPYs. Presented annually to individuals whose contributions transcend sports, the Ashe Award is the emotional pinnacle of the industry-wide sports celebration, which will be televised live Wednesday, July 13, at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPNHD from Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE in Los Angeles. The 2011 ESPYs will be hosted for the second consecutive year by Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” anchor and head writer Seth Meyers.
“I am incredibly honored to be selected as the Arthur Ashe Courage Award winner,” said Dewey Bozella. “Although many lessons in my life have been difficult to learn, I am now in a position to help others based on my experiences and that is worth the world to me. This award helps to reinforce my belief that you have to stand by your convictions, even if others don’t necessarily understand. Receiving this award is among the proudest moments in my life.”
“Dewey Bozella represents the power that courage can bring to an individual despite seemingly insurmountable circumstances that could destroy many a man,” said John Skipper, ESPN executive vice president, content. “In sports, victory usually comes down to numbers on a scoreboard, but this award presentation on the ESPY stage will remind us that the real prize is remaining true to who you are, even when there’s an easy way out. For his tenacity and mettle, we honor Dewey as the recipient of the 2011 Arthur Ashe Courage Award.”
The Arthur Ashe Courage Award
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); and the Thomas family of Parkersburg, IA (2010).
The ESPYs gather top celebrities from sports and entertainment to commemorate the past year in sports by recognizing major sports achievements, reliving unforgettable moments and saluting the leading performers and performances. The 2011 ESPYs will recognize both sport-specific achievements, such as “Best MLB Player” and “Best WNBA Player,” and best-in-sport winners, such as “Best Team” or “Best Female Athlete” that pit nominees from different sports against each other. The ESPYs honor ESPN’s commitment to The V Foundation for Cancer Research, a partnership launched with the late Jim Valvano at the inaugural ESPYs in 1993.
Fans will determine the winners in all categories (except the Arthur Ashe Courage Award and other special awards) by voting online at http://www.espn.com/espys, ESPN Mobile Web at http://espn.mobi and at www.facebook.com/ESPN through July 9th. Follow us on Twitter @espys.