For Tracy Morgan, hosting The ESPYs is personal. It’s not just another gig to the comedian.
The star of TBS’ ‘The Last OG’ will preside over Wednesday night’s show honouring the past year’s top athletes, performances and achievements. It airs live on ABC from Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.
“The main reason I really wanted to do it is the fight against cancer,” Morgan said in a recent phone interview, explaining that his grandparents and former wife, Sabina, died of the disease. “I have an opportunity to fight their cause and I’m all in.”
Besides the laughs, The ESPYS raise awareness and funds for the V Foundation for Cancer Research. It’s the charity founded by ESPN and the late basketball coach Jim Valvano at the first show in 1993. The cable sports network has helped raise nearly $97 million (Dh356.23 million) for the V Foundation in 26 years.
“We’ll have a great time, but the most important thing is Jim Valvano. I’ll never forget watching him at the ESPYS,” Morgan said. “We forget sometimes the cause, we enjoy being there, but we got to understand the reason why we’re there. It’s an opportunity to give back. I’m in service to others.”
Morgan said he’s a big sports fan, dating to his childhood in Brooklyn. As a youngster, he remembers watching father Jimmy and uncle Alvin Morgan play football.
As a teenager, he met Mark Breland when the 1984 Olympic welterweight champion brought his gold medal to their shared Bedford Stuyvesant neighbourhood and “all the kids running around touching the medal,” he said.
Morgan ran track in high school, competing in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and 55- and 110-metre hurdles.
“I was born into it,” he said. “I was told that my grandmother ran track against Wilma Rudolph in the Olympic trials and lost because she was pregnant with my dad.”
Last month marked five years since Morgan’s life-changing accident on the New Jersey Turnpike when the minibus he was riding in was rear-ended by a Walmart truck. The crash killed friend and fellow comedian James McNair.
“I’m 50 years old and I’ve been hit by a truck doing 75mph,” Morgan said. “I thank god for every day.”
He said his charitable attitude isn’t the result of the accident.
“I’ve always been like that,” Morgan said. “My father survived Vietnam. He told me the only way out of the darkness is to be in service to others. That’s why I do comedy.”
He becomes the fifth ‘Saturday Night Live’ alum to host The ESPYS, joining Seth Meyers, Rob Riggle, Dennis Miller and Norm Macdonald.