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NBA Stars Call for a Revolution in Athlete Activism at ESPY Awards

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On Wednesday evening, four of the biggest stars in the NBA turned a traditionally quiet awards event — the ESPYs — into a massive call for political action.

The message couldn’t have come at a more important time. Sixty-nine percent of US citizens think “race relations” are generally bad at the moment, the worst number since the 1992 race riots in Los Angeles.

People with broad political appeal — celebrities — are exactly who can help heal the country’s discord and bring people together.

The ESPY moment all started with an impassioned Instagram post by Carmelo Anthony regarding the turmoil surrounding police violence and violence against the police.

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

Then, in a matter of days, he rallied his friends Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James to open the 2016 ESPYs. Fittingly, the whole evening was dedicated to the late Muhammad Ali, the boxer who waded into the most contentious social issues of his time.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, the four all-stars spoke eloquently of the need for athletes to leverage their celebrity to bring about change.

“We cannot ignore the realities of the current state of America,” Carmelo Anthony began. “The system is broken. The problems are not new. The violence is not new and the racial divide is definitely not new.”

It was a surprisingly candid plea from major sports stars. Oftentimes, athletes steer clear of divisive issues so they don’t lose out on future branding deals.

But the four stars felt they could no longer remain on the sidelines. It was a throwback to an earlier era when political activism and sports overlapped through figures like Ali and Jackie Robinson.  

Chris Paul then described how his uncle was a police officer, one of the many hundreds of thousands who have done or are doing a good job.

But then he invoked the names of black men killed by police. “Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald. Alton Sterling. Philando. This is also our reality.”

Dwyane Wade’s words are worth reading in full:

“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, has to stop. Enough. Enough is Enough.”

“As athletes, it’s up to us to do more than what we already do in our own communities and the conversation 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.”

Lebron James then brought the moment full circle.

“What are we doing to create change? Let’s use this moment for 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 and invest our time, our resources, help rebuild them, help strengthen them, help change them. We all have to do better.”

It was an inspiring and challenging moment for the millions of people watching and reacting on social media.

Here’s how some people responded: