#360USA: NBA stars' message should be just the start

Steve Brenner 08:17 19/07/2016
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Voice of change: (l to r) Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James delivered their powerful speech at the ESPYs.

Enough was enough. Shocked and stunned like the rest of the U.S. following a series of appalling murders which have further widened the gaping chasm between the black community and the police, four of the greatest NBA stars took a stand.

When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony surprisingly opened up ESPN’s annual awards show, the ESPYs, with a call for calm and the search for a solution, it was a seminal moment.

“It’s time to look at the mirror and ask ourselves what are we doing to make change, and renounce all violence,“ said James.

“We all feel helpless and frustrated by the violence. We do. But that’s not acceptable.

“Let’s use this moment as call to action for all professional athletes to educate ourselves, explore these issues, speak up, use our influence and renounce all violence.”

Everyone had their say.

It was powerful, emotive stuff on an evening made all the more harrowing with the presence of Zenobia Dobson, whose 15 year-old son Zaevion posthumously received the Arthur Ashe courage award after being gunned down while trying to protect others.

Not since 1967 when Muhammad Ali, flanked by legendary black sporting legends Bill Russell, Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, took his now-infamous stand against involvement in the Vietnam war, had such high-profile athletes delivered the kind of public protest which makes the world pay attention.

In the lead up to the glitzy LA show, five officers were gunned down in Dallas following the deaths of two black men amid claims of totally unnecessary police brutality.

Anthony’s Instagram post of Ali’s legendary protest – acknowledged as, incredibly, the last time prominent African-American sportsmen joined forces in support of such a controversial agenda – set the wheels in motion. The fabulous four would take a stand.

It was agreed their wardrobe would be sombre and reflective. People needed to fixate on words, not wild shirts.

“We quickly arranged a conference call to get on the phone with all four of them at once to hear what they intended to say and the message they wanted to convey,” said an ESPN spokesperson.

“After listening, we decided that the powerful message should live at the top of the show. The four guys worked on their message over the next 48 hours individually and as a group. From the start, this was their message.”

Now comes the hard part.

To have the likes of James openly speaking out with no fear about upsetting Nike, Kia, Beats or any other lucrative sponsor was admirable indeed. Yet the deep-rooted racial and economic problems which sit at the heart of America’s violent social divide won’t be solved by basketball royalty showing serious, albeit highly respectable, bravery in front of a TV audience.

Now is the time for the athletes who are adored by the troubled, lost youths to become part of the conversation 24/7.

Instead of turning up at a charity event once year, they need to be more available. Moments like this need to become commonplace.

The members of broken communities will listen to LeBron. Letures from police officers or social workers will mostly meet deaf ears, no matter how hard they try.

Sport offers a ray of hope. A chance of a better life. But how many are really prepared to put their heads on the block? To really stand up and question the authorities?

The foursome of James, Anthony, Wade and Paul are all multi-millionaires whose legacies are rubber stamped. Would a rookie NFL player be as honest?

“This isn’t about us,” said Paul, whose uncle is a police officer. “There are a lot of people who wonder about our friendship, but what we’re here to do tonight is bigger than basketball. It’s bigger than anything we’ve ever done.”

It must not stop here, though.

This has to be the start rather than a one-off proclamation of intent followed by a depressing return to the violent norm.

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