Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James started the broadcast of Wednesday night’s ESPYs by standing on stage together and speaking about racial tension and recent shootings. Here’s the full clip of their nearly-four minute speech:
— Good Morning America (@GMA) July 14, 2016
Anthony starts this off by saying “Tonight is a celebration of sports, celebrating our accomplishments and our victories, but in this moment of celebration, we asked to start the show tonight this way. The four of us talking to our fellow athletes with the country watching, because we can not ignore the realities of the current state of America. The events of the past week have put a spotlight on the injustice, distrust and anger that plagues so many of us. The system is broken. 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.”
Paul then goes “We stand here tonight accepting our role in uniting communities to be the change we need to see. We stand before you as fathers, sons, husbands, brothers, uncles, and in my case, as an African-American man and the nephew of a police officer, who is one of the hundreds of thousands of great officers serving this country. But. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile. This is also our reality. Generations ago, legends like Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and Tommie Smith, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown, Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe and countless others, they set a model for what athletes should stand for. So we choose to follow in their footsteps.”
Wade adds “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. But also, the retaliation has to stop. The endless gun violence in places like Chicago, Dallas, not to mention Orlando, it has to stop. Enough! Enough is enough! Now as athletes, it’s on us to challenge each other to do even more than we already do in our own communities. And the conversation cannot, it cannot stop as our schedules get busy again. It won’t always be convenient, it won’t. It won’t always be comfortable. But it is necessary.”
James finishes “We all feel helpless and frustrated by the violence, we do, but that’s not acceptable. It’s time to look in the mirror and ask ourselves “What are we doing to create change?” It’s not about being a role model, it’s not our responsibilities to the tradition of activism. I know tonight, we’re honoring Muhammad Ali, the GOAT, but to do his legacy any justice, 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, 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. Thank you.”
This will certainly get plenty of blowback from those who don’t like athletes speaking out on anything unrelated to sports, and it could cause some blowback for ABC and ESPN too, especially from those who tuned in expecting a non-serious sports award show. However, there is a long tradition of successful and important athlete activism from the names Paul mentioned and others, and this certainly seems to fall within that. Whether the ESPYs were the appropriate place for this speech certainly will be debated by many, but it definitely adds to their relevance.