It was a different kind of ESPY Awards this year. There were no comedic routines, nor was there a live audience full of athletes and A-listers. Filmed remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic, the annual summertime spectacle celebrated the power of sports as vehicles for social change, and above all else, told us Black Lives Matter.
Donning t-shirts with Black Lives Matter and George Floyd’s initials, Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird hosted the ESPYs Sunday from their Seattle-area home, alongside Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. The opening monologue provided a poignant look at Black athletes who have led the way on activism over the years, from Bill Russell to Serena Williams. Towards the end of his opening comments, Wilson challenged his white teammates to get involved in the fight, which was a perfect lead-in for Rapinoe, one of the socially active athletes today.
“As white people, this is the breaking point,” Rapinoe said. “This time, we’ve got to have their backs.”
Rapinoe was the first white athlete to kneel during the national anthem in 2016, showing solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, who knelt to protest racial injustice and police brutality against Black people. Last week, U.S. Soccer apologized to Rapinoe for its draconian anti-kneeling policy, showing we’ve reached a new era of athlete activism.
Longstanding attitudes are changing faster than ever.
That was evident throughout the two-hour presentation, which highlighted the social justice efforts and initiatives of numerous star athletes, including Cavaliers forward Kevin Love, who received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award for his work in the mental health arena.
Rapinoe and Bird received nearly universal praise for their performances, with Bird challenging white people to think about Black lives out of a sports context. According to journalist Jemele Hill, the power couple used Black designers for their award show wardrobe.
“Do Black lives matter to you when they’re not throwing touchdowns, grabbing rebounds, serving aces?,” Bird asked. “If that was uncomfortable for you to hear, good. I used to shy away from moments like this, because it’s convenient to be quiet, to be thought of as safe and polite.”
In the LGBTQ community, we know the importance of good allies. Eradicating systemic racism will take all of us, and as Rapinoe and Bird explained, silence is no longer acceptable.