Throughout the ESPYS ceremony on Wednesday night at the Microsoft Theater in LA, athletes, media figures, and celebrities took center stage to not only celebrate, but also honor and highlight the people, moments, and stories that have left their mark on the sports world. During the ceremony, there were a few tears, laughs, and surprises—but there was plenty of inspiration. Here are the eight most goosebump-inducing, inspiring moments from the 2016 ESPY Awards.
Gus Kenworthy on the Red Carpet
In October 2015, Olympic freeskier Gus Kenworthy became the first action sports athlete to come out as gay on the cover of ESPN magazine. This year, he attended his first ESPY awards ceremony as a nominee in the Best Male Action Sports Athlete award category. While on the red carpet, Kentworthy delivered his take on the strides that the LGBT community has recently made in the sports world. “I am so proud to be the person at the ESPYS tonight who gets to represent skiing and represents action sports and represents the LBGT community—and there are other amazing people who will be representing that community, too—but I am honored to be able to be here and show those communities how proud I am to be a part of them,” he said.
Inspiring moment #2 >>>
NBA All-Stars Address ‘Black Lives Matter’
Even before host John Cena took the stage, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Dwayne Wade gave a somber opener that discussed the epidemic of gun and police violence against black people, and encouraged athletes to not only double as role models, but as activists.
“We asked to start the show tonight this way, the four of us talking to our fellow athletes with the country watching because we cannot ignore the current state of America,” Anthony said. “The events of the past week have put a spotlight on the injustice, distrust and anger that plagued so many of us. The system is broken.”
“The system is broken,” Paul added. “And the racial divide is definitely not new. But the urgency to create change is at an all-time high.”
Wade picked up where the Clippers point guard left off: “The racial profiling has to stop. The shoot-to-kill mentality has to stop.… Enough is enough. Now, as athletes, it’s on us to challenge each other to do even more than what we already do in our own communities.
James closed out the address by continuing to urge action. “We all feel frustrated and helpless by the violence… It’s time to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, ‘What are we doing to create change?’ It’s not about being a role model…it’s about choosing to speak up, use our influence, renounce all violence, go back to our communities and …help change them. We all have to do better.”
Inspiring moment #3 >>>
Eric Berry Pays Tribute to Cancer Survivors
Eric Berry, a Chiefs safety and one of the top backs in the league, won the award for Best Comeback Player, which recognized his Pro Bowl season after his incredible return from beating Hodgkin’s lymphoma. During his speech, he powerfully addressed the legacy of survivors.
“I’m not a victim of circumstance. I’m not a victim of diagnosis… You honor the ones that come before you and you leave a legacy for the ones that come behind you… So, I’m not accepting this award for me, I’m accepting it for all the fighters out there. Regardless of what your circumstance is, regardless of what your diagnosis is, just keep pushing and always remember, ‘Honor your legacy, baby.’ And you can push through it.” Watch the moment here.
Inspring moment #4 >>>
Best Female Athlete Calls for Equality
WNBA star Breanna Stewart continued the opportunity to use the ESPYS stage as a social platform, speaking out against gender inequality in sports media.
“During my time in college, I received much media attention,” Stewart said. “I am grateful for that. But now that I am in the WNBA playing with other amazing female athletes, I am trying to understand why we as professional athletes don’t receive anywhere near the fame. This has to change. Equality for all takes each of us making an effort. Together let’s be better.”
Inspiring moment #5 >>>
Paralympic Athlete and Sergeant Elizabeth Marks Receives Pat Tillman Award for Service
After discovering the sport of swimming to recover from serious injuries she suffered in Iraq while serving in the Army, and medaling at this year’s Invictus Games (which are held to honor injured and ill servicemen and women), Elizabeth Marks was awarded the Pat Tillman Award for Service.
During her acceptance speech, Marks put the focus on others who serve. “After returning from combat, I suffered from survivor’s guilt. I felt selfish for wanting to go and compete when I could be helping in other ways… But I realize that this is a way that I can help. Thank you to the Tillman Foundation… Thank you for being an example of what it means to take an absolute tragedy and turn it into a triumph. And to all of my fellow service members out there… If you’re struggling, if you’re hurting… if you ever think you’re alone. You’re not.”
Inspiring moment #6 >>>
Kobe Bryant, Abby Wambach, and Peyton Manning Receive Icon Award
After being introduced by Justin Timberlake, Manning, Bryant, and Wambach took the stage to address the crowd about the moments that shaped their careers and how their careers shaped them.
“The Super Bowl wouldn’t mean anything, the World Cup wouldn’t mean anything, the NBA Finals wouldn’t mean anything, without the fans,” Manning said. “Being a fan is how I first came to love the NFL, and now that my time is up as a player, I’m looking forward to having a great time being a fan again.”
Wambach spoke to the issue of gender pay equality, and her hopes to continue changing the current standard. “For me, it was never about trying to be the best player in the world. It was about working hard and embracing every challenge. I wanted people to see who I was underneath the jersey and see me as a person and not just an athlete. We’re willing to be true to ourselves and speak up when there’s something to say—whether it’s about equitable pay, or any issue about fairness and injustice … I’m proud of being part of that legacy, standing in front you today, true to myself and knowing that I’ve left the game better than I’ve found it.”
Following Wambach’s powerful speech about leaving a legacy, Kobe looked forward to the future. “My 8th-grade English teacher…said this quote: ‘Rest at the end, not in the middle.’ I took that to heart. I believe there’s time for resting at the end but for me that time is not now. Thank you for this end—it’s a tremendous honor in acknowledging my basketball career. But I’m far from done. My next dream is to be honored one day for inspiring the next generation of athletes to have a dream, sacrifice for it and never ever rest in the middle.”
Inspiring Moment #7 >>>
Zaevion Dobson’s Mother and Brothers Accept the Arthur Ashe Award
Zaevion Dobson died while shielding two girls from gang-related gunfire in his hometown in Tennessee. While accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage Award on his behalf, Zaevion’s mother and two brothers spoke not only in honor of Zaevion’s bravery, but also a need for change in the US.
“It’s an honor to accept this award on behalf of our beloved Zaevion,” Zenobia Dobson said. “We feel blessed and honored that Zaevion joined the ranks of this award’s honorees… We as a country need to take a stage to consider the effects of gun violence in America. I am here to urge the movement tonight to save innocent lives. To the athletes in this room: you have a lot of power and people look up to you—Zaevion did.… Think tonight about why he died and think about what you can do to prevent the next innocent young man or woman from being killed.…We need to rewrite laws to make it harder for the people to get guns.”
Inspiring Moment #8 >>>
Craig Sager Delivers a Poignant Speech After Winning the Jimmy V Perseverance Award
The final award of the evening went to broadcaster Craig Sager, who after receiving a grim cancer diagnosis from doctors, went on to undergo experimental treatments so he could continue working and never miss a game. Now, after making a full recovery, Sager used his acceptance speech to advocate for cancer research, and offer perspective on the resilience of the human spirit—even quoting the famous Jimmy V. “Time is something that cannot be bought, it cannot be wagered with God, and it’s not an endless supply. Time is simply how you live your life. …The way you think influences the way you feel and the way you feel determines the way you act.
If we don’t have hope and faith, we have nothing. …I will never give up and I will never give in. I will continue sucking the marrow out life as life continues to suck the marrow out of me. I will live my life full of love and full of fun. It’s the only way I know how. Thank you, and goodnight.”