ESPYS opening number makes major statement A more serious tone comes over the awards show in 2016

On Wednesday night in Los Angeles, the 24th annual ESPYS opened with a powerful statement from four of the best players in the NBA.

Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James stood in black tuxedos, shoulder to shoulder on stage, arms clasped in front of them. The crew once known for riding a banana boat on vacation instead took a leadership role in letting the country know that Black Lives Matter. Their faces were sober, their words were eloquent, their clothes were exquisite, their emotion was real.

Earlier in the night, various characters from around the world of sports and entertainment spoke on the topic. Amid the flurry of camera lights and adoring fans, it was impossible to overlook the pall on America.

“It’s been an unprecedented time, because of the exposure that it gets. I remember the era of civil unrest in the ’60s, it was all of this and some. So, it’s almost like reliving it,” Basketball Hall of Famer Julius “Dr. J” Erving, 66, said Wednesday. “You know, Watts, [California], Newark, [New Jersey], and various places and cities that got burned down. I mean, these are the type of situations that ignite riots and they also bring about change. So, I think that’s the big thing about what’s happening now. … I think there’ll be dramatic change, with us taking a look at how police handle their business. And we’ll all be better because of that.”

Hannibal Buress, the Chicago-raised comedian whose work drastically changed the way we feel about Bill Cosby, joked that personally he still isn’t sure what to do when he’s recognized by police. As a guy who went from a relative unknown to rather famous from his work on television, he said that once in a blue moon it helps him, but not really.

“Occasionally, a cop will recognize me or something. ‘Hey, big fan!’ and I always feel weird,” Buress, 33, said. “It’s just always feels weird when a cop takes a picture. I really want to say no, but I can’t say no. I do get weirded out when cops recognize me. I’m like, ‘Cops watch stand up comedy, too?’ ”

As for the rest of the country, Buress thinks that police departments policing themselves would go a long way. “I think it really starts within the police forces where they’re willing to say, ‘Hey man, that’s messed up.’ Instead of having their code of silence and knowing that something is wrong and letting it pass. And once you have police officers saying, ‘Hey this is messed up, we don’t stand for this,’ that’ll be a huge step for that situation.”

But as we saw to open the show Wednesday night, it’s not a topic that athletes want to or choose to ignore. New York Giants rookie cornerback Eli Apple is a 20-year-old who’s yet to play a down in the NFL. But he knows that what he’s seen recently is just plain not okay.

“It’s been definitely tragic for sure. It’s sad to see America be like this, just going through all this controversy and brutality. The only thing you can do is just control and have faith. That’s about it,” Apple said. “It’s talked about all the time [in the locker room]. They’re a lot of debates going on, but there’s nothing we can really do, we’ve just got to make sure what we can to make America better.”

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