I Can Do Better.

On Wednesday night, four of the NBA’s biggest stars took the stage at the ESPY Awards with an important message, about the role they want athletes to take in supporting social issues in America.

LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, donning black suits, kicked off the night by taking several minutes to speak directly to the audience about getting involved in issues like gun violence, racial injustice, and police brutality that impact Americans every day.

The words were some we’ve heard a lot in recent months“We can do better.” “We must not sit idly by.” “We can’t turn our heads to the severity of this issue when our lives get busy again.” These are the same words used regularly by government leaders, community activists, parents, teachers, police chiefs.

For as often as we hear that line, “we can do better”, it never quite moves people to action. And yet, something about this message felt different.  Enough to compel me to dig in deeper.

That digging led me to this Vanity Fair article by Krista Smith that shared that backstory of the statement made during the ESPY Awards.

Turns out that the idea was born directly from the four athletes several days ago, after Anthony posted an Instagram photo from the “Ali Summit” in June 1967 when the nation’s top black athletes including Bill Russell, Jim Brown, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar flanked Muhammad Ali at a news conference in support of his decision to object his induction into the Vietnam War. As Smith writes, “Bill Rhoden of the New York Times called the civil rights milestone “the first—and last—time that so many African American athletes at that level came together to support a controversial cause.”

As Smith shared, “the four contemporary stars were inspired by the historic gathering, and decided over their daily group text-messages to unite nearly 50 summers later to stand for social justice. They coordinated their wardrobe to stand in unity, so people would listen to what they were saying rather than be distracted by what they were wearing.”

I can’t say if the message will have an effect, but there was something in the message that I particularly appreciated: the athletes took it upon themselves to make a statement. They challenged themselves to do better, before they challenged their community of fellow athletes to do better.

Indeed, there has been no shortage of that line “we can do better” in recent months, and I suspect its use may only increase with time. President Obama used it just last week in response to the deadly police shootings, and he’s used it countless times in conversations and speeches related to gun violence.

But, what we know is if we want to motivate real change, we need to call on ourselves first. We all have a role to play in shaping our future. And yes, we can do better. But first, I’ll focus on doing my part.

Perhaps if we can all say that, positive change might actually be on the horizon.