The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic ensured that this year’s ESPYs would be radically different than any of its predecessors. And to the surprise of no one, there was no red carpet, no gaudy venue or lengthy monologue taking unsolicited jabs at some of the biggest names in sports. But for what it lacked in tradition, it more than made up for in intention. More specifically, it almost felt as though racial justice joined Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, soccer star Megan Rapinoe and WNBA legend Sue Bird as the fourth host of the 2020 ESPYs.
The opening segment, in particular, was especially powerful, as Wilson, Rapinoe and Bird shouted out groundbreaking athletes such as Jackie Robinson, Bill Russell, Muhamad Ali and Serena Williams for their commitments to social justice before segueing into the senseless deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd.
“Our country’s work is not anywhere close to done. We need justice. We need true leadership. We need a change. And we need it now,” Wilson said. “I look at my children and I pray for a better future. A world where the color of their brown skin doesn’t stop them from their calling, from their purpose, from their destiny. I pray for a world where I don’t have to fear for my children due to systemic racism from hundreds of years of oppression. The only thing that must die is racism. Black lives matter.
“I see a world of hurt, pain, and despair. But I also see a new generation, a generation that is calling out in desperate need for lasting change. As millions of people of all colors protest, I see a world of hurt, pain and despair. But I also see a new generation. A generation that is calling out in desperate need for lasting change.”
Rapinoe, who made headlines in 2016 after taking a knee during the national anthem, stressed the importance of allyship and the role that our white counterparts play in combating racial inequality.
“It’s important that we keep this dialogue going and this energy alive. Because for centuries, there have been fights for justice and equality in this country, led by Black people,” Rapinoe said. “This movement is no different, but as white people, this is the breaking point. This time, we’ve got to have their backs.”
Bird admitted that in the past she would shy away from addressing these issues, but in acknowledging that she was a part of the problem, she challenged others to speak out in support of black lives.
“Trust us, we know that sports are important,” Bird said. “It’s why we’re gathered here tonight. But do Black lives matter to you when they’re not throwing touchdowns, grabbing rebounds, serving aces? If that was uncomfortable 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.”
Watch their powerful message below.