The 2020 ESPYS started with Russell Wilson in a "Black Lives Matter" shirt, a clear sign that ESPN's annual awards show was going to be much different in 2020 than in years past.
Wilson, who co-hosted a virtual version of the show along with fellow Seattle sports stars Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe, opened the show by talking about Jackie Robinson, Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali and Serena Williams, Black athletes who were also civil rights activists and pioneers in their sports.
"But what if we didn't know their names?" Wilson said. "What if they were never part of the conversation. And there's also this conversation: I can't breathe. I can't breathe. Those were George Floyd's last words. Ahmaud Arbery was just going out for a run and never came home. Breonna Taylor was at home in bed. 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; 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 and hundreds of years of oppression. The only thing that must die is racism. Black Lives Matter, so where do we go from here?"
Unlike most years where the ESPYS features awards for top athletes and teams, this year's show highlighted big moments and performances in sports—the insane Wilson-to-Tyler-Lockett touchdown from Week 5 was part of a best plays montage, for example—but kept its main focus on the power of sports at a time when a pandemic is still affecting the world and when racial injustice is such an important topic.
Saints safety Malcom Jenkins discussed how he was inspired watching LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul challenge athletes during the 2016 ESPYS to use their platforms, and put out a call to action of his own, saying, "There's no going back, there's no inching forward. The time is now."
Taquarius Wair, who overcame life-threatening burns sustained as a 4-year-old to eventually become a running back at Mesabi Range College, was given the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance, and was surprised with a virtual visit from Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin who congratulated Wair.
"Jimmy V talks about perseverance and overcoming all obstacles, (people) who show nothing but grind, nothing but perseverance and attitude and grit, and I wanted to let you know that you're that guy," Griffin said. "I'm proud of you, bro, so proud."
The ESPYS ended with a call to action by all three hosts, with Bird saying athletes need to "continue to use our platforms to fight for a better future."
Wilson quoted Nelson Mandela, saying, "Sport has the power to change the world, has the power to inspire, has the power to unite people in a way that little else does."
And finally, Rapinoe ended the show with this message: "Let's show the world how great sports can be, together."