Wednesday night’s ESPY Awards, the predominant sports awards show in the U.S., began with a solemn message about race and unity by four of the most recognizable faces in the athletic world.
Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James each took their turn commenting on the fragile and divisive state our country finds itself in, and pleaded for harmony and togetherness.
It was a singularly unique and powerful opening to what is typically a relatively lighthearted and entertaining evening, and immediately set the tone while catching my full attention.
Normally, the ESPYS are like the Golden Globes or the Oscars. It’s a celebrity lovefest for the world’s premier athletes to socialize and interact on a platform that is above the rest of us common folk. It’s a means to glorify those who are already glorified.
But last night it was not about that.
It’s almost as if the producers of the ESPYS realized that no one really cares about arbitrary awards and decided to turn the show into an inspirational evening. And it worked.
Normally the show features a couple of human stories that tug at the heartstrings, but this year they amped it up. Big time.
There was Sgt. Elizabeth Marks, a disabled swimmer — or paraswimmer for those unfamiliar with the term — who earned the Pat Tillman Award for Service. She’s an active service member who was placed in a coma after she sustained a near deadly infection. She clung to life and was back in the pool a month later.
There was Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry, a cancer survivor who returned to football following his treatment, who earned the Comeback Player of the Year Award, who delivered a very inspiring speech directed to all those who are currently battling cancer.
Then it just went to full I-can’t-even-pretend-I’m-not-crying mode.
The Arthur Ashe Courage Award was given to the late Zaevion Dobson, a 15-year-old popular student athlete and role model to his friends and brothers in Knoxville, Tennessee, who was shot to death in a random shooting late last year after he heroically jumped on top of two friends to save their life.
His mother and two brothers accepted the award, and delivered a painful, heartfelt plea to end the gun violence in America. By the end of the segment, I was a wreck. It will also anger some, given that there are so many people in the world who refuse to act to curb the prevalence of guns when stories like this so often exist.
Finally, the Jimmy V Perseverance Award was bestowed to the eccentric but very likable basketball reporter Craig Sager, who is a staple for all sports fans on the sidelines of basketball games, most noteworthy for his humorous interviews with San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
Sager only has a few months left to live. It draws similarities to last year’s recipient, Stuart Scott, who died in January. When you get the chance, watch Sager’s speech, because it will put some serious perspective into your day.
And then it ended. I won’t bother linking to any video clips or speeches of the award recipients because they’ll likely be taken down from YouTube fairly soon. So look them up yourself.
Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of all that we take for granted — our health, family and friends. And it’s also a remedy for the soul to hear such human, heart-wrenching stories.
That’s all for me. In case you’re wondering, I just heard about the devastating carnage that occurred in France as I started writing this blog … but it’s way too soon for me to react. Maybe next week. I don’t feel like discussing tragedy right now.
Have a good weekend, y’all. Be safe.