Four black athletes at the top of their games, each dressed in a black suit, opened Wednesday night’s ESPY Awards by standing together on stage and calling for an end to police violence against innocent black men in America.
The New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony went first, explaining why they decided to open the show this way, talking to their fellow athletes with the country watching. “The system is broken, the problems are not new, the violence is not new, and the racial divide definitely is not new,” he said, “but the urgency for change is definitely at an all-time high.”
As the nephew of a cop, Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul paid tribute to the “hundreds of thousands of great officers serving this country” before reading the names of victims: “Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile—this is also our reality.”
Paul connected the words spoken by he and his fellow athletes tonight to the political statements made in the past by the likes of Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and others. “They set a model for what athletes should stand for,” he said. “So we choose to follow in their footsteps."
Dwyane Wade, who is headed to the Chicago Bulls next season, called for not only an end to “racial profiling” and a “shoot to kill mentality” from police, but also to the type of “retaliation” that we saw in Dallas last week and the “endless gun violence” in places like Chicago and Orlando. “It has to stop,” he said. “Enough is enough.”
Recently-crowned NBA Finals MVP LeBron James went last. Noting that the night would include a tribute to Ali, he said, “to do his legacy any justice, let’s use this moment as a call to action to all professional athletes to educate ourselves, explore these issues, speak up, use our influence and renounce all violence.”
“And most importantly,” he continued, “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.”
It was a powerful and important message and according to ABC News reporter T.J. Holmes, the idea did not come from ESPN. The four athletes approached the network directly and asked to open the show this way.