The 2016 ESPY Awards honoring excellence in professional sports began on a somber note, Wednesday night, with a powerful and necessary speech from four of the NBA's biggest stars — Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Paul.
Addressing the ongoing racial tensions in the United States, the athletes used the nationally televised awards to make a statement about racial injustice and police brutality. They also made a Black Lives Matter call to end gun violence.
“The events of the past week have put a spotlight on the injustice, distrust and anger that have plagued so many of us,” Anthony began. “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, who is the nephew of a police officer, got more specific and highlighted how legendary athletes — like Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, John Carlos, Tommy Smith, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and countless others — raised their voices for social change in the past.
“The shoot-to-kill mentality has to stop,” said Wade, pressing that racial profiling has to end. “Not seeing the value in black or brown bodies has to stop. But also retaliation has to stop. The end of gun violence in places like Chicago, Dallas, not to mention Orlando, has to stop. Enough. Enough is enough.”
James ended the powerful speech with “a call to action for all professional athletes…to do better.”
“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 about our responsibilities to a tradition of activism,” the NBA star concluded. “I know tonight, we honor 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, support these issues, speak up, use our influence, and renounce all violence.”
James also encouraged fellow athletes to invest time and resources into their communities and help rebuild, strengthen and change them.
“We all have to do better.”
Watch their complete speech in the video above.