MIAMI -- NBA superstar Dwyane Wade is challenging athletes to move beyond symbolic gestures and rhetoric amid protests to raise awareness of social issues dividing parts of the country.
"Actions speak louder than the words you say," Wade said Saturday. "We have to continue to do things in our communities to try to raise the bar. The great thing about being an athlete today is you can make a stand for what you believe in, and it's OK."
For Wade, that meant spending his Saturday morning pedaling along a 6-mile course in Coconut Grove alongside more than 1,000 other cyclists that included minority children, adults from various backgrounds and police officers from Miami in the D-Wade CommUNITY Bike Ride. The event capped a week of promotional events Wade's foundation held back in Miami before the former Heat icon heads to his Chicago hometown to open training camp next week after signing with the Bulls.
"Actions speak louder than the words you say. We have to continue to do things in our communities to try to raise the bar. The great thing about being an athlete today is you can make a stand for what you believe in, and it's OK."Dwyane Wade
Wade, who spent his first 13 season with the Heat and won three NBA titles in Miami, has spent much of the offseason engaged in social activism in both cities. He has also been at the forefront in a recent trend of professional athletes who have used their platforms to address police brutality, discrimination of minorities and inner-city gun violence.
Although Saturday's bike event was planned months earlier, it came a day after a shooting spree in Philadelphia left two people dead and two police officers among five others who were wounded. The tragedy in Philadelphia follows other police-involved shootings in Baton Rouge, Dallas, Minneapolis and Miami that have gripped the country in recent months.
"First of all, it's not OK," Wade told ESPN when asked about the Philadelphia shootings. "I'm not promoting that killing is OK. I'm a supporter of my community, the African-American community. I'm a believer in Black Lives Matter, 100 percent. But I'm also a believer that it's not OK for anyone to kill. It's all about communication."
Wade, 34, said all sides need to do a better job of listening and respecting opposing viewpoints.
"I think police need to do a better job of communicating to the community of what they're looking for and what they're out there doing," Wade continued, speaking of the general unrest that exists in some communities. "And it's important for the community to have an opportunity to communicate back to them as well -- to have them explain whatever their problems [are] and how they're handling them -- to be able to move past this terrible epidemic we're seeing. Today, this ride was all about unity."
Wade said his event Saturday was designed to bring everyone together for a positive example of interaction between law enforcement officials and residents of the communities they serve. As Wade moved his bike toward the front of the line to start Saturday's race, organizers motioned for a young African-American boy to join an assistant Miami police chief to both ride alongside the 12-time All-Star.
After the race, Wade spoke to the crowd about bike safety and community engagement before the event eventually turned into a waterfront block party. It's been an emotional summer for Wade, who has spent most of the summer addressing a number of social issues. In July, he spoke at the ESPYS alongside NBA star friends Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Chris Paul in a plea to police shootings and retaliatory gun violence. Last month, Wade spoke on panel hosted by ESPN's The Undefeated that addressed athletes and gun violence. A day later in Chicago, Wade's cousin was killed as she pushed a stroller down the street in a shooting that was intended for another target.
All of those events have weighed heavily on Wade and his family.
"When something hits you the way it hit us, it becomes [more] real," Wade said. "And the great thing about my family is we come together more and try to be stronger and make more of an impact as much as we can. No matter what shape, size or color you are, you were invited out here today to understand how important community is and how strong we are when we come together."
Wade also said he's been encouraged by other athletes who "have answered the call" the four NBA stars made during the ESPYS show two months ago. Wade has since seen a group of athletes follow San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has been kneeling in protest during the playing of the national anthem to call attention to racial discrimination in the country.
Count Wade among some NBA players who believe athletes in their sport will continue to find ways to express themselves and their discontent with social issues once the season opens next month.
"If you have something you believe in, take a stand and get behind it," Wade said. "We have this platform. ... We're portrayed as bigger than life because we're on the big stage. But we're everyday people as well. And it's OK to have a voice and express that. We through a call out [in July] to all athletes to use their voice and their platform to do more ... to help the community, whatever race you are, and to stand up for what you believe in. And it's great to see athletes standing up to do that."