Sports took a backseat at the start of the 2020 ESPYs on ESPN on Sunday.
Hosts Russell Wilson, Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird called for social justice, an end to racism and for everyone to embrace the idea that Black lives matter at the start of the show. Wilson listed the names of iconic athletes who fought for social justice—"Jackie, Bill, Ali, Serena"—and said "What if we didn't know their names? What if they were never part of the conversation?"
He then transitioned to pointing to Black people who have recently been killed due to racism and police brutality, including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
"We need justice," he said. "We need true leadership. We need it now."
Rapinoe and Bird stressed how important it is to keep the conversation going and for white people, in particular, not to shy away from the conversation because it makes them uncomfortable.
"We can't let sports try to take us back to the way things were," Rapinoe said.
It was a fitting opening to a show that traditionally honors sports excellency during a time in which sports have taken a backseat amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the fight against systemic racism and police brutality has dominated the conversation as the deaths of Floyd and others have sparked worldwide protests and a demand for change.
It also set the tone for what figures to be an ESPYs about much more than championships and individual on-field accomplishments.
Among the awards set to be handed out are the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award, Sports Humanitarian Team of the Year, Corporate Community Impact Award, the Stuart Scott ENSPIRE Award and the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.