The 2016 ESPY Awards, held last night in Los Angeles, opened on a serious note. NBA superstars Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade and LeBron James began the show by imploring their fellow athletes to "use our influence and renounce all violence."
Paul both commended the "hundreds of thousands of great officers serving this country" and invoked the names of black men recently murdered by police, including Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. He then called on today's athletes to follow in the footsteps of legendary sportsman with politically active streaks, including Muhammed Ali and Jim Brown.
Wade made the most direct statement, saying, "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."
LeBron followed that with a call to action, asking athletes to "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."
John Cena's monologue came next, and he did pretty well for a WWE meathead, with his best burn coming at the expense of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
The levity was short-lived though. Longtime NBA reporter Craig Sager received the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance for fighting an ongoing battle with leukemia. Despite the disease, the 64-year-old has continued to work and never wavered in his commitment to wearing Liberace's old suits on the sideline. The speech he gave was inspirational and totally sad.
Before the end of the night, the subject returned to gun violence. During Steph Curry's presentation of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, which went to Zaevion Dobson, a 15-year-old high school football player who died while protecting others from gun shots, he said this:
Athletes are people, not mindless machines. And even though many of us like to use sports as an escape, there is no escaping real-world problems like cancer and violence.
The ESPYs, typically boring and useless, provided something valuable for once this year: a reminder that sports do not exist independent of the world around them.