A viral photo shared on Facebook more than 775,000 times contrasting Caitlyn Jenner’s bravery with that of combat soldiers took an “ironic twist,” according to the Oregon man who posted it, after he discovered the true nature of the dramatic image.
On Monday, Terry Coffey posted a photo of what he believed was a wounded World War II soldier firing his gun at the enemy while being carried to safety. Coffey added a caption to the photo:
“As I see post after post about Bruce Jenner’s transition to a woman, and I hear words like, bravery, heroism and courage, just thought I’d remind all of us what real American courage, heroism and bravery looks like!”
The post — which has been shared more than 775,000 times — began to gain traction on social media about the same time as unconfirmed reports were spreading that ESPN selected Jenner for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award over a veteran who lost an arm and a leg in combat.
As Coffey’s image continued to be shared, several commenters were quick to point out the back story of the photograph.
The image is credited to Mark Hogancamp, who created the photo as part of an exercise to manage his pain after he was nearly beaten to death by five men in New York 15 years ago because he was crossdressing. He suffered serious brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, which he combats by creating World War II narratives with one-sixth scale using dolls.
A day after sharing the viral photo, Coffey posted a follow-up to his original post:
“This is the photo I shared yesterday in the spirit of spotlighting ‘true bravery.’
“This photo that accompanied my words, was chosen from a quick image search. Just wanted something to fit my words. I wanted to find out who the photographer was, so I could credit his work.
“In an ironic twist, I have discovered that the photo is part of a documentary created by a man who was beaten nearly to death outside of a bar in 2000. After spending 9 days in a coma, suffering severe brain damage and being unable to walk or talk for a year, he chose to try and cope with his pain from the tragic event, by creating a world of stories and characters and photos set in WWII. The image I chose, was one of those created for an upcoming documentary. Why was he nearly beaten to death by 5 strangers?
“Because he was a cross-dresser.
“I could have chosen one of hundreds of other photos. But I didn’t, I chose this one. Do I think it was an accident? I don’t.
“What happened to this man was wrong, cruel, and unforgivable.
“Hate helps nothing.
“Love wounds no one.
“and God heals all.
“(and irony makes us think)”
ESPN Issues Statement About Arthur Ashe Courage Award
On Wednesday, ESPN went into further detail on how the network chooses its recipients by saying the award is meant to honor people “whose contributions transcend sports through courageous action.”
“Sometimes that courage is demonstrated over the course of a lifetime and sometimes it is demonstrated in a single act that shines a light on an important contemporary issue,” the statement read. “At all times, there are many worthy candidates.”
“This year, we are proud to honor Caitlyn Jenner embracing her identity and doing so in a public way to help move forward a constructive dialogue about progress and acceptance,” ESPN said.