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Cosby pays tribute to Jackie Robinson on ESPY Awards

February 11, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ Bill Cosby, in his first live television appearance since his son was killed, honored Jackie Robinson Monday in a serious moment on the usually irreverent ESPY awards show.

President Clinton also saluted the baseball pioneer in a taped appearance, and Muhammad Ali was honored as well on the sporting awards program sponsored by cable network ESPN, which is generally filled with jocks struggling to make jokes.

Cosby beckoned the applauding Radio City Music Hall crowd to sit down when he took the stage an hour into the program.

``Hello, friends,″ said Cosby, who has swiftly gone back to work after the still-unsolved shooting death of his only son, Ennis, last month.

Robinson, Cosby said, ``was a sportsman in the truest sense of the word and a role model for millions of Americans.″

Robinson, a World Series hero with the Brooklyn Dodgers, broke baseball’s color line in 1947 and was the first black ballplayer elected to the baseball Hall of Fame. His widow, Rachel, hugged Cosby and thanked him for supporting the late baseball star’s scholarship fund.

Former heavyweight champion Ali, slowed by Parkinson’s Syndrome, was given the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. Super Bowl MVP Desmond Howard and Olympic sprinting champion Michael Johnson both saluted Ali when picking up their own awards.

``I love you very much,″ Howard said. ``I love what you’ve done. I love what you stand for.″

The awards show celebrated memorable sports moments of the past year like Dwight Gooden’s no-hitter, Ohio State’s last-minute Rose Bowl victory and Kerri Strugg’s Olympic vault into history.

It also ran tape of some lowlights, like Dennis Rodman kicking a photographer in the groin and a golfer vomiting on the course.

About three dozen ESPY trophies were handed out. Some of them were chosen by representatives of different sports, others by ESPN executives and 10 in balloting by about a half-million fans.

Golf prodigy Tiger Woods was named breakthrough athlete of the year, heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield was the comeback athlete of the year and Olympians Amy Van Dyken and Johnson won the outstanding female and male athletes of the year.

The World Series champion New York Yankees and their manager, Joe Torre, were named outstanding team and manager of the year.

``George, congratulations on getting rid of all those pesky World Series heroes,″ host Jeff Foxworthy told Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

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