This year’s ESPY Awards had a decidedly different tone, because this is a decidedly different time in our lives. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have led to massive global protests calling for racial equality and justice, while putting an end to systemic racism and racism as a whole.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Seattle Storm legend Sue Bird, and US soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe co-hosted the ceremony — all sporting “Black Lives Matter” shirts — and began the broadcast’s cold open with a call for unity against racial injustice. The video began with Wilson listing off iconic and important Black athletes like Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and Serena Williams, describing their impact on sports and their efforts to create social change.
Then the scene transitioned to the aforementioned deaths of Floyd, Arbery, and Taylor, the names at the forefront of the protests that you’re seeing right now.
“Our country’s work is not anywhere close to done,” Wilson said. “We need justice. We need true leadership. We need a change. And we need it now. I look at my children, and I pray for a better future. A world where the color of their brown skin doesn’t stop them from their calling, from their purpose, from their destiny. I pray for a world where I don’t have to fear for my children due to systemic racism from hundreds of years of oppression. The only thing that must die is racism. Black lives matter.
“So where do we go from here? As millions of people of all colors protest, I see a world of hurt, pain, and despair. But I also a new generation. A generation that is calling out the desperate need for for lasting change. To my white teammates and friends: we need you to lead, too. Don’t just listen. Help.”
Up next was Rapinoe, who memorably kneeled during the national anthem in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick back in 2016. US Soccer banned the act of kneeling during the anthem before repealing it earlier this month in the midst of the protests.
“It’s important that we keep this dialogue going and this energy alive,” Rapinoe said. “Because for centuries, there have been fights for justice and equality in this country, led by Black people.
“This movement is no different, but as white people, this is the breaking point. This time, we’ve got to have their backs.”
Lastly was Bird, who admitted that she “used to shy away” from these topics, but that’s no longer the case.
“Trust us, we know that sports are important. It’s why we’re gathered here tonight,” Bird said. “But do Black lives matter to you when they’re not throwing touchdowns, grabbing rebounds, serving aces? If that was uncomfortable to hear, good. I used to shy away from moments like this, because it’s convenient to be quiet, to be thought of as safe and polite.”
You can watch the whole video at the top of the page.