The 2016 ESPY Awards wasted no time before jumping into what is and hopefully will remain on the minds of millions of Americans: gun violence and the use of force by too many police officers against people of color.
As the broadcast started Wednesday, NBA stars Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James took the stage silently with their hands folded. No posters behind them. No bells and whistles. No nothing. Just four successful, hard-working black men, pleading with their country for some sanity in the wake of the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
“The events of the past week have put a spotlight on the injustice, destruction and anger that plague so many of us,” Anthony said. “We cannot ignore the realities of the current state of America.”
“The system is broken,” Anthony added “The problems are not new. The violence is not new. And the racial divide definitely is not new. But the urgency to create change is at an all-time high.”
The decision to open the show was the four close friends’ idea, and comes on the heels of an op-ed in The Guardian by Anthony, in which he asked athletes to use their voice to force change, even suggesting a message of some sort next month at the Olympic Games in Brazil.
Paul paid homage to great athlete-activists of the past, both living and deceased, including Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe and Muhammad Ali. “They set a model for what athletes should stand for,” he said.
Wade, who recently joined the Chicago Bulls, discussed not only violence by police, but by civilians against others, especially in the city of the team he just joined. “The racial profiling has to stop. The shoot-to-kill mentality has to stop. Not seeing the value of black and brown bodies has to stop,” he said. “But also, the retaliation has to stop. The endless gun violence in places like Chicago, Dallas, not to mention Orlando, has to stop. Enough. Enough is enough.”
Finally, the camera moved in on James, who said that even when when Americans feel most frustrated with the system, and more especially then, they should fight to improve it, not give up. “That’s not acceptable,” James said. “It’s time to look in the mirror and ask ourselves what are we doing to create change?”
“Let’s use this moment as a call to action for all professional athletes to educate ourselves, explore these issues, speak up, use our influence, and renounce all violence,” James added. “And most importantly, go back to our communities. Invest our time our resources, help rebuild them, help strengthen them, help change them. We all have to do better.”