The opening of the 2016 ESPYs was more political than it has been in recent memory, and more necessary than ever before.
Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and LeBron James stood on the ESPYs stage and delivered a statement on the climate of violence and profiling in the United States. The close friends have proved themselves as some of the most outspoken in the NBA, especially when it comes to acts of violence against the black community.
“We cannot ignore the realities of the current state of America,” Anthony said. “The events of the past week have put a spotlight on the injustice, distrust, and anger the plague so many of us. The system is broken. The problems are not new. The violence and the racial divide definitely are not new.” The words were similar to one of Anthony’s social media posts, in which he challenged his fellow athletes to take a stand in the wake of the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, along with the shooting of police officers in Dallas.
In response to that call to action, Paul, Wade, and James stood by Anthony’s side on the stage, and accepted their roles in facilitating the change America so desperately needs in the struggle for racial justice.
Paul, who played a role in the protest against former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling after he made racially insensitive comments, mentioned in his response that he is the nephew of a police officer. But he also references Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and Laquan McDonald, stating that deaths like these are a reality for African-American men. Paul pointed to legends like Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, John Carlos, Tommie Smith, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who set an example for other athletes’ social and political activism.
The ESPYs honored the legacy of Ali, who James mentioned in his brief statement, where he challenged athletes to ask themselves what are they doing to create change. “To do his legacy any justice, let’s use this moment as a call to action for all professional athletes to educate ourselves…and use our influence and renounce all violence.
But the strongest statement of the night came from James’ former teammate, Dwyane Wade.
“The racial profiling has to stop,” Wade said. “The shoot-to-kill mentality has to stop. Not seeing the value of brown and black bodies has to stop.” Wade took it a step further, saying the endless gun violence around the country needs to stop. “Enough is enough,” Wade said. “As athletes, it is on us to challenge each other to do even more than we already do.”
The powerful statement by the Banana Boat crew was well-received by many, including a former President of the United States.
— Bill Clinton (@BillClinton) July 14, 2016
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 14, 2016
Watching the opening speech from Lebron Carmelo Dwayne and Chris Paul speaks about the violence in the world.. Gives you chills..#ESPYS
— Sean Appenzeller (@SeanApp21) July 14, 2016
That beautiful speech to begin #ESPYS! Congratulations.
We are all equal. Violence is unacceptable. ❤
— Martín Díaz. (@SummertimesCold) July 14, 2016