Heading into Sunday night’s ESPYs, it was poised to be different than any other to date. Amid the coronavirus pandemic and the social justice movement sweeping across the country after the death of George Floyd, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Seattle Storm Sue Bird and OL Reign Megan Rapinoe had the tall task of hosting the awards show— and they didn’t disappoint.
To open the show, the three called on the sports world, especially white athletes, to continue pushing for change in the wake of Floyd’s killing.
The powerful intro invoked the names of Jackie Robinson, Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali and Serena Williams, then pivoted to names like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
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. I look at my children and I pray for a better future. The only thing that must die is racism. Black lives matter. So where do we go from here? ... 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. — Russell Wilson
“For centuries, there have been fights for justice and equality in this country, led by Black people. This movement is no different, but as white people, this is the breaking point. This time, we’ve got to have their backs.” — Megan Rapinoe
Trust us, we know that sports are important. 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. Colin Kaepernick never shied away. He knew that discomfort was essential to liberation and that fighting the oppression against Black people is bigger than sports. — Sue Bird
Bird and Rapinoe later appeared in T-shirts featuring Floyd’s initials and were reported to have used Black designers for the event.
But Wilson, Bird and Rapinoe know the call to action is going to take more than their voices and more than the voices of the African American community. It needs to be collective.
"To my white teammates and friends, we need you to lead too. Don't just listen, help,“ Wilson said.