Caitlyn Jenner the talk of the evening at the odd, blingy but watchable ESPYs

Welcome to America, circa 2015, where the dividing line between sports and pop culture no longer exists.

Mix the hubris of Hollywood with the bravado of modern athletes and you get what you get. I can barely watch, but neither can I resist the chance to witness it up close. This is better than Brutus stabbing Caesar at the Theater of Pompey, though I'll admit I was busy that night and didn't catch it live.

But I managed to see the ESPYs in person on Wednesday, amid the legends and the lunatics and the occasional Brutus or two. Red carpets seem to attract that.

Not sure what I'm supposed to feel for Caitlyn Jenner. Admiration? Not quite. Sympathy? Only because of her past connection to the Car-Krashians. From what I remember, she was married to the queen bee herself. Let's just say that their gold-plated values are not my values and leave it at that.

In any case, Caitlyn Jenner is an American sensation and the talk of the evening. I'm OK with it; why shouldn't I be? Just funny how the major issues don't really hit the spotlight till they involve athletes. Jackie Robinson. Renee Richards. Ray Rice. Now Jenner. Maybe it's easier for us to discuss difficult issues when they involve our most powerful symbols of fitness and virility.

And, yes, Hope Solo falls in there somewhere.

Who was here Wednesday night? Who wasn't? Well, American Pharoah didn't win, place or show. As if the biggest sports star of the year had something better to do on a Wednesday night.

OK, probably.

“American Pharoah will spend his off-season like any other famous athlete, siring multiple children,” host Joel McHale said in an edgy monologue that also included:

—”[I see you're] all dressed up in the nice suits you usually wear to your depositions.”

—”[UFC champ] Ronda Rousey has knocked out more women than Bill Cosby.”

One of the best thing about athletes is that they tend to be wiseguys, hence McHale was an excellent choice to host. He may have been too smart for the room, but who isn't? To me, McHale's tone carried just the right amount of irreverence for a night that was bound to end with a teary and unsettling speech.

The whole spectacle started in midafternoon on a hot red carpet, the heavy makeup quickly turning sludgy under a sun so bright you could see tummy tattoos through the gowns. Funneling through were hundreds of athletes, from obscure paralympians to oversaturated brands such as Alex Rodriquez.

Young baseball player Mo'Ne Davis spoke of finishing up the summer season with the under-14 boys travel ball team she plays on, while wearing a billowy dress that seemed made in a cake shop.

Though American Pharoah didn't make it, trainer Bob Baffert did, doing every interview he was asked and complaining about the lull he'd experienced the last month after the excitement of the Triple Crown.

“You made a lot of gamblers very happy,” Baffert told the Patriots' Malcolm Butler as the two discussed Butler's last-second Super Bowl interception.

“I knew the play, I knew it was coming,” the defensive back said of the moment he stepped in front of the little slant pass.

Elsewhere, soccer star Solo talked about having to leave her husband back in the hotel room while he waited for his tux to arrive, then spoke with excitement about getting to see her friend Jenner.

“Twenty-one of the 23 players are here,” she said of her World Cup teammates.

Indeed, the members of the women's soccer team were the biggest hits of the night, followed by the NFL studs and the blingy, bedazzled NBA players.

World Cup standout Carli Lloyd showed up with her fiance, Brian Hollins, and talked about running that morning, her first workout since the soccer finale.

I've been to two of them now, and an ESPYs red carpet is like the oddest high school lunchroom you could ever see. Diminutive producer Brian Grazer is there with his baseball-loving son; the Clippers' J.J. Redick is there in a cobalt blue suit, no socks, with his wife, Chelsea, who stands by patiently while he answers endless DeAndre Jordan questions; NBA newbie Frank Kaminsky, recognizable and accommodating, is posing for photos with fellow Wisconsin alum Grace Abbott. Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers pal around as they enter the auditorium.

“Gronk!” the public address guy yells as Rob Gronkowski arrives. “The party can begin.”

How's it all play? Kind of cool, kind of forced.

Unfortunately, Jenner did a drop-and-dash, skipping the red carpet and interviews after.

But there's a moment in these red carpets where no one moves, the air stops, the antiperspirant quits working, someone steps on someone's toe, security people push guests along, a publicist faints. Those are the best moments, and you have to wait until about 45 minutes before showtime before things really coalesce like that.

But it's really worth the wait — here at the ESPYs, at our Theater of Pompey.

Twitter: @erskinetimes


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4:23 p.m.: This story has been updated throughout. It is the final version of the story.