As the awards opened, James, Anthony, Wade and Paul took to the stage under a somber blue light. New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony spoke first.
The ESPYs are a time of joy he said, but ‘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 cannot ignore the realities of the current state of America.’
‘The system is broken,’ he continued. ‘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.’
Chris Paul of the LA Clippers spoke next. Calling himself a father, son, husband, brother and ‘nephew of a police officer,’ he went on to list a roll-call of high-profile black victims of police violence including Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. ‘This is also our reality,’ he said.
‘The racial profiling has to stop,’ said Dwayne Wade. ‘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 what 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.’
Finally, James closed out the speech: ‘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?”‘
He continued: ‘I know tonight we’ll honor Muhammad Ali, the GOAT.
‘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 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.’
The issues were raised again during the presentation of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, which this year was posthumously given to Zaevion Dobson, who – at 15 – is the youngest-ever recipient of the trophy.
Dobson, a beloved member of Fulton High School’s Falcons football team, was just 15 when he was shot dead in December last year.
He had leaped onto three girls and covered their bodies with his own as gang members sprayed bullets indiscriminately – sacrificing himself to save the girls’ lives.