Amidst the glamour and excitement of the annual ESPY sports awards ceremony Wednesday night, a quartet of NBA stars took the stage to address a somber topic – the recent shooting of blacks by white police officers.
LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Dwayne Wade opened the show by urging their fellow professional athletes to use their time and resources to combat gun violence.
"The urgency to create change is at an all-time high," Mr. Anthony said.
Mr. Wade called for an end to racial profiling and "not seeing the value of black and brown bodies," as Mr. Paul recited the names of black men recently killed.
"Enough is enough," Paul said.
Their statement comes at a time when professional athletes are less likely to engage in political activism than in the past, experts say, especially as some claim to have faced repercussions for voicing opinions on divisive issues such as gun control or same-sex marriage, as The Christian Science Monitor's Henry Gass reported:
Athletes now prefer to be active in less confrontational ways – like giving to charities, funding scholarships, and investing in poor communities, says Johnny Smith, a historian at Georgia Tech.
"It’s a quieter activism, it’s a safer form of activism," he adds. "These athletes came of age in a different political climate, and they have been discouraged to be politically active because it has not been economically wise to do so."
The risks have not stopped some athletes from vocally supporting movements like Black Lives Matter. In 2012, Mr. James tweeted a photo of himself and other members of the Miami Heat basketball team wearing hoodies in support of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Florida teen who was fatally shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
Two years later, several NBA teams wore T-shirts bearing the words "I Can’t Breathe" in reference to Eric Garner, a black man suffocated by a police officer while being arrested for selling loose cigarettes.
The anti-violence message of James and his fellow pro players on Wednesday night was underscored by a plea from the mother of Zaevion Dobson, a 15-year-old high school football player from Tennessee who sacrificed his life last year to shield two girls from gunfire.
While accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage Award on her son's behalf, Zenobia Dobson told the audience that four months after Zaevion's death, his 12-year-old cousin was killed in a drive-by shooting on his way home from a basketball game where her son was honored.
"I'm here to fight back," Ms. Dobson said. "We as a country need to take a stand to consider the effects of gun violence on the families throughout America."
She called for stricter gun control laws, urging professional athletes to exercise their influence.
"All the athletes in this room, you have a lot of power," she said. "People look up to you. I know Zaevion did. I urge you to think tonight about why he died and what you can do tomorrow to prevent the next innocent man or woman from being lost."
This report contains material from the Associated Press.