The ESPYS, a longtime stage to celebrate athletes' achievement and perseverance, became a platform for athlete activism this week thanks to four of the most prominent players in the NBA.
Spurred by recent violent events in America and Carmelo Anthony's social media response to them -- evoking an image from the famed Muhammad Ali Summit in 1967, when a handful of the country's most influential African-American athletes gathered in Cleveland to discuss the issues plaguing the nation and minorities in particular -- the group that refers to itself as The Brotherhood chose to deliver a message.
First off let me start off by saying " All Praise Due To The Most High." Secondly, I'm all about rallying, protesting, fighting for OUR people. Look I'll even lead the charge, By Any Means Necessary. We have to be smart about what we are doing though. We need to steer our anger in the right direction. The system is Broken. Point blank period. It has been this way forever. Martin Luther King marched. Malcolm X rebelled. Muhammad Ali literally fought for US. Our anger should be towards the system. If the system doesn't change we will continue to turn on the TVs and see the same thing. We have to put the pressure on the people in charge in order to get this thing we call JUSTICE right. A march doesn't work. We tried that. I've tried that. A couple social media post/tweet doesn't work. We've all tried that. That didn't work. Shooting 11 cops and killing 5 WILL NOT work. While I don't have a solution, and I'm pretty sure a lot of people don't have a solution, we need to come together more than anything at this time. We need each other. These politicians have to step up and fight for change. I'm calling for all my fellow ATHLETES to step up and take charge. Go to your local officials, leaders, congressman, assemblymen/assemblywoman and demand change. There's NO more sitting back and being afraid of tackling and addressing political issues anymore. Those days are long gone. We have to step up and take charge. We can't worry about what endorsements we gonna lose or whose going to look at us crazy. I need your voices to be heard. We can demand change. We just have to be willing to. THE TIME IS NOW. IM all in. Take Charge. Take Action. DEMAND CHANGE. Peace7 #StayMe7o
The friends talked on group text and decided to deliver a speech at the ESPYS calling on athletes to do more to enact social change in the wake of high-profile shootings in Dallas, Orlando, St. Paul and Baton Rouge.
"This was their idea, and their powerful words ... the show ensured their voices had maximum impact," said Connor Schell, the executive producer of the ESPYS.
On Monday, two days before the broadcast, a representative for James reached out to ESPN about the possibility of becoming a part of the show.
The purpose, according to a source familiar with James' thinking, was to highlight the history of professional sports having a tradition of activism and establishing that duty of consciousness with all of the high-profile athletes in attendance.
"At this time, they felt it was important to highlight that," the source told ESPN. "It was a call to action to honor and embrace that tradition."
Anthony, James, Wade and Paul coordinated a cold open for the telecast, standing together onstage at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles to deliver a group speech that urged fellow athletes to use their influence to call for an end to violence.
"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 for change is definitely at an all-time high," said Anthony, the New York Knicks star who has been outspoken in the wake of the high-profile shooting deaths last week of two African-American men and five Dallas police officers.
Added Wade, who recently agreed to a deal with his hometown Bulls in Chicago, where violence has surged in recent years: "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."
Paul said he and his fellow stars were influenced by the athletes who stood for social causes in the past.
"Generations ago, legends like Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and 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," Paul said. "So we choose to follow in their footsteps."
James continued his message of being proactive with social change, rather than simply being reactionary when a tragedy occurs.
"Let's use this moment as a call to action for all professional athletes to educate ourselves, explore these issues, speak up, use our influence and renounce all violence," James said. "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."
All four players said that they would continue to fight after their ESPYS speech.
"For LeBron, it really is about continuing to act on and expand on a lot of what he's been working on," said the source. "Whether it's being vocal about issues or focusing on his foundation or what he's done in Akron [Ohio], his mission is to take what he's done, expand upon it and keep growing."
The LeBron James Family Foundation teamed with the University of Akron last summer to pledge 2,300 four-year college scholarships, at a cost of more than $80 million, to students who enroll in and complete an education program.
James has been consistently outspoken regarding social issues in the last several years, whether his words were prompted by gun violence, rioting in response to police brutality or racist comments by former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.