NBA Stars Aspire to Follow Footsteps of Activist Athletes, Call for Social Justice

High-profile professional basketball players Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James decided to use Wednesday night’s ESPY awards ceremony in Los Angeles as a platform for social justice.

In the wake of last week’s police-related deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, along with the killing of five officers in Dallas, the athletes called upon peers to use their fame to better the country.

From left to right: Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James.

The ESPYS annually recognize individual and team athletic achievement. As the showaired on a major TV network, ABC (owned by The Walt Disney Company, No. 38 on DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity list), the athletes leveraged their opportunity.

“In this moment of celebration, we asked to start the show this way,” Anthony, New York Knicks’ star forward, began. “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.”

He said that the “system is broken, the violence is not new, and the racial divide is definitely not new.” However, “the urgency to change is on an all-time high.”

Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers’ star point guard, mentioned he is the nephew of a police officer who is “one of the hundreds of thousands of great officers serving this country.”

He continued, “But Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile is also our reality.”

Wade, a 13-year star player with the Miami Heat who is soon to be a Chicago Bulls guard, said racial profiling, a “shoot-to-kill mentality and not seeing the value of black and brown bodies,” must stop. He also said retaliation and gun violence in cities, including Chicago, Dallas and Orlando, must cease as well.

“As athletes, we must challenge ourselves to do even more than what we already do,” Wade said. “The conversation cannot stop as our schedules get busy again.”

“We all feel helpless and frustrated by the violence,” James, star forward of the Cleveland Cavaliers, said. “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 professional athletes must reach back to their communities.

“Tonight we’re honoring Muhammad Ali, the GOAT [Greatest of All Time],” he said. “But to do his legacy any justice, let’s use this moment as a call to action.”

James was named the best male athlete and NBA player and also received the ESPY for Best Championship Performance.

Paul also said the athletes choose to follow in the footsteps of other legends, including Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens. They indeed have big shoes to fill in picking up the fight for social justice.

Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier when he made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. The same year, when playing his first game against the Philadelphia Phillies, the team’s players and manager Ben Chapman called Robinson racial slurs. He was also refused service at a local hotel.

In April almost 70 years later the city of Philadelphia officially apologized for the racism the groundbreaking athlete endured. The city council passed a resolution naming April 15 a day to honor Robinson’s achievements. The apology was presented to Robinson’s widow, Rachel.

Reverend Jesse Jackson, who has been pressuring Silicon Valley tech companies to increase the diversity of their employees, often makes reference to Robinson when explaining why diversity is important.

“Whenever the playing field is even, and the rules are public, and the goals are clear, the referees are fair, we always do well. Imagine baseball without Jackie Robinson,” Jackson said at a DiversityInc event.

Related Story: Comcast’s Chief Diversity Officer Talks ‘Race’ at Screening

U.S. Olympian great Jesse Owens broke down barriers by winning a record-breaking four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, where he faced Adolf Hitler’s concept of Aryan supremacy. Owens experienced racism both abroad and in the U.S. For example, President Franklin D. Roosevelt never invited the Olympic champion to the White House or acknowledged his triumphs.

Boxing heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, who died on June 3 at 74 years old, was also one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. However, his helping to galvanize the Civil Rights Movement, including outspokenness on issues of religion and politics, shaped his legacy.

“I am America,” Ali once said. “I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.”

Related Story: Muhammad Ali: The Loss of a Legend

Modern-day athletes have to their advantage the use of social media to reach a mass audience. Anthony used his Instagram account on Saturday to speak about finding solutions to police brutality and advocating for unity.He included a photo of Ali’ssummiton June 4, 1967 in Cleveland,when top Black athletes in the U.S. held a press conference in support of the champ.

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

A photo posted by @carmeloanthony on

He also appeared on the back page ofSaturday’s edition of the New York Daily News with same message:

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