The 2016 ESPYs opened on a somber note, as four NBA superstars took the stage to address the racial tension in America following a wake of shootings earlier this month.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Paul referenced last week’s fatal police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and the murders of five Dallas police officers — as well as gun violence in the U.S., including the killing of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
“The four of us are talking to our fellow athletes with the country watching, because we cannot ignore the realities of the current state of America,” Anthony said. “The system is broken. The problems are not new, the violence is not new, and the racial divide is definitely not new. But the urgency to create change is at an all-time high.”
Paul, a nephew of a police officer, noted past athletes like Jackie Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Billie Jean King, and others as their inspiration. “They set a model for what athletes stood for,” he said. “So we choose to follow in their footsteps.”
“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,” Wade added. “The endless gun violence in places like Chicago, Dallas — not to mention Orlando — it has to stop. Enough. Enough is a enough. Now, as athletes, it’s on us to challenge each other to do even more than what we already do in our own communities. And the conversation cannot stop as our schedules get busy again.”
This group of athletes has been particularly outspoken the last few years. When they were teammates on the Miami Heat, Wade and James donned hoodies to call attention to the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin. Anthony penned a heartfelt plea on Instagram last week calling on athletes to do more to curb violence. In 2014, Paul and his L.A. Clippers teammates silently protested the racist recordings of former owner Donald Sterling.
“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?'” James said.
Alluding to the ESPY Awards’ planned tribute to the late Muhammad Ali, James said, “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 your influence, and renounce all violence. We all have to do better.”
See their full speech below. The ESPYs are airing live (ET/CT) on ABC and WatchESPN.