NBA stars open ESPYS with moving speech about police shootings and gun violence

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

“We can’t ignore the current state of America.”

Carmelo Anthony’s opening statement at the beginning of the 2016 ESPYS set the tone for an emotionally gripping evening dedicated to honoring athletes and their accomplishments. Anthony joined basketball stars Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James to address recent police shootings and gun violence against people of color.

“We stand before you as fathers, sons, husbands, brothers, uncles — and in my case, as an African-American man and the nephew of a police officer who is one of the hundreds of thousands of great police officers serving this country,” said Paul.

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

“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,” Wade explained before addressing gun violence in all parts of the country. Wade challenged athletes to increase their impact by expanding on their platforms as celebrities.

LeBron James cited the ESPYS’ decision to honor the great Muhammad Ali as inspiration. “We all feel helpless and frustrated by the violence. We do. But that’s not acceptable,” said James. “Let’s use this moment as a call to action for all professional athletes to educate ourselves, speak up, use our influence and renounce all violence.”

“And most importantly, go back to our communities, invest our time, our resources and help rebuild them,” he continued. “Help strengthen them. Help change them. We all have to do better.”

Carmelo Anthony made an Instagram post earlier in the week calling for his followers to “steer [their] anger in the right direction,” by finding effective ways to make change in regard to the broken system. The vintage photo showcased black athletes Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during a press conference in 1967, defending Ali’s decision not to fight the Vietnam War.

“I’m calling for all my fellow ATHLETES to step up and take charge,” wrote Anthony. “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.”