Matters of racial injustice has been a running theme at awards shows in 2016, from the #OscarsSoWhite controversy in February to Jesse Williams’ transformative speech at the BET Awards in June.
Racial tensions have been intensifying, and everyone from unified gangs to the President expressing an immediacy to find answers to senseless killings since the tragic events that claimed the lives of Black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, and the subsequent retaliation against police officers overseeing a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas last week, the discourse around the state of inter-communal violence and law enforcement in the Black community did not escape Wednesday night’s ESPY Awards [July 13]. In fact, the issues were addressed head-on, with NBA leaders Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and Lebron James opening the ceremony with a collective speech.
“The events of the past week have put a spotlight on the injustice, distrust, and anger that plague 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 great change is at an all time high,” Anthony started, before being followed by Paul, who gave historical context for the relevance of he and his peers taking their stance at the sporting juncture. “Generations ago, legends like Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, John Carlos, 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,” he said.
Anthony has been the main catalyst for action coming from athletes over the past couple of days, sending out a call for athletes to get involved with effecting social change on Instagram on Friday, and again urging athletes to overcome their fear of losing sponsorships in an open letter shared through The Guardian early Wednesday. The New York Knicks veteran has gone as far as pledging to take the fight to the world Summer Olympics in August.
Anthony and Paul were followed by Wade, who drew a line in the sand in addressing both law enforcement and the people, stating, “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.”
James, who was at the forefront of the leagues protests after the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012, continued his role as a social spokesman for a league throughout which he has gained respect in the lead on matters ranging from the dignity demanded for players, the relationship between players and owners, and as was the case Wednesday, the players’ right to express themselves on issues effecting them outside of the arena. “I know tonight, we’ll honor Muhammad Ali, the G.O.A.T. 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,” said James in his anchoring comments. “And most importantly go back to our communities. Invest our time, our resources. Help rebuild them. Help strengthen them. Help change them.