FOX 32 NEWS - They’re among the best athletes in the world, mastering balls, bats and their bodies. But can they also help control the violence plaguing Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods?
That’s the question being asked as top athletes met with community leaders at a South Side YMCA Thursday.
It’s a simple question for a complicated problem: do professional athletes have a responsibility to try and reduce urban violence in the cities where they play?
Kevin Merida is a producer for ESPN, and on Thursday he organized a televised forum that put together current and former pro athletes with community leaders and kids.
"We saw a lot of activism back in the 60s and 70s and I think we're seeing a renaissance. I think athletes are more concerned about what's going on around them. They want to be citizens of the world,” Merida said.
Proof of that, Merida says, was the dramatic message delivered by basketball stars Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade and LeBron James at this year's ESPY awards.
"The endless gun violence in places like Chicago, Dallas, not to mention Orlando, it has to stop. Enough."
"Brothers on the street have their posters in their room. Wearing their shoes on their feet. They have a huge influence. So we ask them any was that they can help be a voice for peace,” said Father Michael Pfleger.
Father Pfleger says it was significant when former Bulls star Michael Jordan recently wrote a two million dollar check to help address police-related shootings. But he says it's even more important when athletes get involved in the community, as former Bulls star Joakim Noah did by producing a gun violence documentary.
"It seems unreal. But as much as I wanted to help, sometimes the best thing to do is just listen,” said Noah.
"It's when you come down in the neighborhood, sit and talk to the brothers, validate them and get inside their heads, get inside their hearts and say 'how can we change this around together?'" Father Pfleger said.
And don't forget, many professional athletes were raised on these same violent streets, something not lost on the teens that FOX 32 talked to.
"The more people who look up to them, are watching them, if they can change or say something about the violence, then they can make a change,” said 7th grader Asia Morgan.
A change for the better where winning and losing is often a life or death proposition.
The producers said they chose to tape the show in Chicago because of its well-documented problems with violence, and its reputation as a world-class sports city.