I’ve long believed ESPN’s annual sports award show, The ESPY Awards, was a self-indulgent program. As fanatical as I am about sports, I never deemed the ESPYs to be necessary. By the time the sports world’s best of the best descend upon Los Angeles to be honored for their accomplishments, on an otherwise sportless evening, the candidates of each category have already won an MVP or Rookie of the Year award, team championships, or appeared in All-Star games. More than enough respect has been put on their names to build a legacy. Think about it. When athletes are considered for Hall of Fame honors, no one rattles off how many ESPY awards they’ve racked up throughout their illustrious careers in defense of their worthiness. It simply does not happen.
But recently, my outlook on the award show has shifted. While I still have little to no interest in the big reveal when it comes to who’s who of the year (unless it’s Serena Williams. I’m always here for Serena winning awards), I’m massively committed to having my heartstrings tugged on as we learn of the courageous acts of hometown heroes such as Zaevion Dobson, a high school football player who was shot to death while shielding three of his female friends from gunfire. Or the triumphant story of NBA on TNT courtside reporter Craig Sager’s battle with cancer. Whether it’s Robin Roberts, Stuart Scott, or Devon and Leah Still sharing their life testimonies, I tune in to be inspired and informed.
But last night, the ESPY Awards’ powerful showstopping opener featuring Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James, restored an emotion within me that had been invisible for a week or more — hopefulness.
Critics often challenge athletes to be purposeful with their platforms. And on a night when the sports calendar was void of live action, and one week removed from three tragic police related shootings that shook the nation to its core, the worldwide leader in sports led by example by demonstrating what corporate activism and accountability are.
The premier sports media company in North America has nearly 90 million annual subscribers under the influence of its daily programming. The sports media giant possesses the power to manufacture stars overnight — Linsanity anyone? Or bury indiscretions that could destroy an athlete — Peyton Manning sound familiar? Or, an entire professional sports league — CTE ring a bell? They control the sports narrative within this country and determine what will dominate sports conversations day after day, month after month, and year after year.
To obtain as much authority as ESPN, is to understand that Black male athletes are the bread and butter of this multibillion dollar industry. It is to recognize that if the 75% of Black athletes that comprise the NFL and NBA were to collectively decide to walk off the court and field tomorrow — never to return — the entire industry, ESPN included, would collapse beyond repair. It is to know that the systemic racial injustices currently plaguing our country disproportionately impact men of color resembling the NFL’s and NBA’s laborers. It is to hear the call-to-action from Carmelo Anthony and provide him with a platform, a distribution channel to amplify his message to hundreds of millions of people via its sister channel, ABC. It is to dare sponsors to threaten to spend their dollars elsewhere and be willing to risk the blowback in favor of a cause you believe in. It is to offer four NBA mega-superstars an opportunity to be humanized and exploited for positive gain, for once. It is to invite them to invade the spaces of the bigoted beings watching live at home and within the four walls of the theater. Because let’s be honest, there were many unwoke and bothered folks shifting in their seats upon hearing last night’s message. It is to encourage Anthony, et. al to speak directly to the racial divide, police brutality, gun violence and injustices that are tearing this country apart. It is to know that there is power in having the names of the victims — Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile — said aloud and exalted within the same space that today’s sports heroes are being recognized. It is to be a vessel for these athletes to lead the way to being the change they want to see. For them to honor the legacy of their hero Muhammad Ali by accepting the roles of activist. It is to stand in solidarity and support of the message: #BLACKLIVESMATTER.
photo via AP
video via rabit