Anthony to use platform to promote social change

`I’m calling for all my fellow ATHLETES to step up and take charge ...'
Carmelo Anthony (left), Kevin Durant and Draymond Green look on during a USA Basketball practice Tuesday at Mendenhall Center in Las Vegas.
Carmelo Anthony (left), Kevin Durant and Draymond Green look on during a USA Basketball practice Tuesday at Mendenhall Center in Las Vegas.

Carmelo Anthony said he was having trouble sleeping. In the aftermath of the fatal police shootings of two black men, followed by the retaliatory killings of five police officers in Dallas by a sniper, Anthony awoke in the middle of the night this month and logged on to his Instagram account.

“Just started typing,” Anthony said Monday as the men’s national basketball team commenced its training camp in Las Vegas ahead of the Olympics next month in Brazil. “That’s how everything came about.”

Anthony, 32, who is chasing his third gold medal, appears determined to use his platform as a sports star to advance his growing interest in social activism, particularly when it comes to gun violence. He plans to help organize a town-hall meeting with community leaders in Los Angeles soon, he said.

“Because at the end of the day, what I put out there on Instagram and what we did for the ESPYs kind of sparked something,” Anthony said, referring to a message he helped deliver at the ESPN sports awards show last week. “So now we got to follow through with that and make sure everybody is following through.”

Anthony said he was disturbed by the fatal police shootings this month of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and by the violence in Dallas. Anthony subsequently posted a 307-word essay on social media that called for unity and for high-profile athletes to help effect meaningful change.

“We have to put the pressure on the people in charge in order to get this thing we call JUSTICE right,” Anthony wrote, adding: “While I don’t have a solution, and I’m pretty sure a lot of people don’t have a solution, we need to come together more than anything at this time. We need each other. These politicians have to step up and fight for change.”

On Sunday, there was still more violence: three law enforcement officials dead in Baton Rouge after a gunman opened fire. Anthony said he was running out of words in the wake of so much bloodshed.

With his essay last week, Anthony posted a 1967 photo of Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) and other black athletes who had gathered to support Muhammad Ali’s refusal to fight in Vietnam.

“I’m calling for all my fellow ATHLETES to step up and take charge,” Anthony wrote. “There’s NO more sitting back and being afraid of tackling and addressing political issues anymore. Those days are long gone.”

The message resonated. Anthony said he had heard from high-profile friends: LeBron James, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade, who were to appear at the ESPY Awards. Anthony had not planned to attend, he said, but James, Paul and Wade invited him to share his message. As he stood on stage next to them, Anthony opened the televised show by reiterating his view that the country was in dire need of a conversation.

“We cannot ignore the realities of the current state of America,” he said. “The events of the past week have put a spotlight on the injustice, distrust and anger that plague so many of us. The system is broken. The problems are not new. The violence is not new. And the racial divide is definitely not new. But the urgency to create change is at an all-time high.”

James, in particular, has used his celebrity platform to speak on social issues. In December 2014, he helped lead a movement among players to wear T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “I Can’t Breathe” — a popular cry among protesters in the wake of a grand jury’s decision not to indict a New York police officer whose chokehold led to the death of an unarmed black man, Eric Garner, on Staten Island that July.

At the ESPYs, James and Wade both called on other athletes to exert their influence.

“As athletes, it’s on us to challenge each other to do even more than we already do in our own communities,” Wade said. “The conversation cannot stop as our schedules get busy again.”

Anthony easily could have bowed out of the Olympics to rest for the coming NBA season. But as he told reporters in March, with the New York Knicks scuffling through another disappointing stretch, he wants to play in the Olympics so he can be reminded of “what that success feels like.”

The Knicks wound up missing the playoffs for the third straight season. They have made improvements in recent weeks, however.

Phil Jackson, the team president, traded for Derrick Rose and acquired Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings in free agency, bolstering the Knicks’ rotation and, if everyone can stay healthy, their playoff hopes.

“The front office stepped up,” Anthony said. “On paper, we look good. We look real good.”

At the same time, the Olympic experience clearly means something to Anthony — perhaps now more than ever, he said, given recent events.

“The timing couldn’t have been any better for us as a country,” he said, “having a chance to come together, be united, and then go over there on the biggest stage you can possibly play on and have that voice, represent something that’s bigger than us 12 players.”

In 2004, Anthony made a brief but notorious appearance in a video that advised against “snitching” to law enforcement officials. On Monday, he was asked to reconcile those views with his current social commentary. He said that he had matured, that he had grown to understand the power of his voice.

“That was something I didn’t know at 19, 20, 21 years old,” he said. “You just don’t know those things. You go through life like nothing can affect you.”

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