By Ken Reed

LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwayne Wade opened this week’s ESPYs with a powerful speech calling for their fellow athletes to step up and do whatever possible to help end gun violence in their communities.

It was a promising development, but will James, Anthony, Paul, Wade and the athletes in the audience walk the talk or revert back to focusing on building their brands?

The words from the speech provide hope that today’s sports superstars might start following the lead of the great athletes that came before them when it comes to social activism.

“Generations ago, legends like Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and Tommie Smith, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown, Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe and countless others, they set a model for what athletes should stand for. So we choose to follow in their footsteps.”

Let’s hope that’s indeed the case because elite athletes in this country have a tremendous platform from which to do good.

The James/Anthony/Paul/Wade speech was refreshing, especially because it was their idea. The foursome approached the show’s producers about how they wanted to kick off the ESPY awards program.

James, in particular, is increasingly becoming known for his social consciousness. This development is somewhat surprising given James’ long refusal to comment — or take action of any kind — on his long-time sponsor Nike’s use of sweatshop factories in third-world countries. These factories are symbols of labor rights violations, paltry wages, terrible working conditions, forced overtime and abusive treatment of hundreds of thousands of workers. The factories make a mockery of human rights standards.

However, James was the first NBA star to call for the ouster of the Clippers’ racist owner, Donald Sterling. He also made strong statements following the Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner killings.

James ended the quartet’s ESPYs speech Wednesday night with these words to his fellow athletes: “Speak up. Use our influence. And renounce all violence. And most importantly, go back to our communities, invest our time, our resources, help rebuild them, help strengthen them, help change them. We all have to do better. Thank you.”

Let’s hope James, Anthony, Paul, Wade, and the athletes watching heed that call.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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