With every passing day, the United States becomes more divided.

It’s the time for athletes to take responsibility and use their platform to engage the public, prompting a change to that narrative.

Because whether they like it or not, the nation looks up to these sports figures.

OPINION: Barkley Was Wrong, Athletes Should Be Role Models

Twenty three years ago, NBA analyst and Hall of Fame forward Charles Barkley refused to accept the mantle of “role model.”

“I am not a role model,” Barkley said in a Nike commercial back in 1993. “I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court.”

Now, more than ever, Americans need athletes to set an example.

Yes, they are “paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court,” but as violence wreaks havoc on our society, individuals of such prominence have an obligation to their community to become agents of change.

LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade understand the significance of this role.

The four NBA All-stars, and likely future Hall of Famers, chose to speak out at this year’s ESPY Awards, calling upon all athletes to take up the cause and serve as an example for those less fortunate.

“In this moment of celebration, we asked to start the show this way,” Anthony said. “(With) the four of us talking to our fellow athletes with the country watching. … The urgency to create change is at an all-time high”

It was an unprecedented moment in the history of sports.

Absent John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s protest at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, the monologue delivered by four of the most prominent players in the NBA was the first time sports figures of that magnitude had openly expressed disapproval with the current state of American society.

Paul spoke with a calm, but urgent tone.

“We stand here tonight accepting our role in uniting communities to be the change we need to see,” Paul told the audience and millions of television viewers around the world. “Generations ago legends like Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and Tommie Smith. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown, Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe and countless others, they set a model for what athletes should stand for. So we choose to follow in their footsteps.”

CHARLES BARKLEY: “I AM NOT A ROLE MODEL”

The domestic violence issues that have ripped through the NFL in the last two years and plagued Major League Baseball and other sports just the same, is a product of young men not having the guidance they so desperately needed.

Either no one, or not enough people, instructed these athletes to never lay hands on a female or child.

Perhaps, if Barkley talked about loving and respecting the opposite sex, his message would have resonated across the country.

But the message of non-violence is not sexy enough, I guess.

The stories we read about athletes are not centered on their humble family lives, where one athlete may be a dotting father, committed pastor, or remarkable husband.

Instead we focus on their philandering, womanizing and trouble with the law.

Yes, the media is guilty of peddling such stories, but there could be more positives to write, tweet about and report on if only more sports figure spoke up.

“As athletes, its on us to challenge each other to do even more than what we already do in our own communities,” Wade said.

Jackie Robinson knew that responsibility.

JOHN CARLOS AND TOMMIE SMITH STAGE PROTEST AT ’68 SUMMER OLYMPICS

He wanted to be treated as an equal and endured terrible hardship to realize that goal, all along remaining silent about the depravities he was forced to face.

Now, those voices need to be heard.

Athletes aren’t paid to play their sport, they are paid to be a professional.

They are obligated to give interviews and make public appearances for the team or sponsors.

In fact, very little of their earnings come based upon their accomplishments between the lines. So why not use the pulpit to portray a model for the youth of America to idolize.

And it’s not like these sports figures are shut-ins, most of them Tweet about all facets of their existence, pertinent or benign.

As the country is turning against itself, let the beacons of inspiration on the field or court become a shining example to kids in the classroom or community.

Athletes, there is no escaping it, the nation looks to you for strength. You are what our society strives to be.

People prop athletes up on a pedestal because they show humanity that incredible things can be achieved.

They are not gods, but in every other sense, prominent athletes have become mythological figures. Though, they do exist in reality.

And the reality of our current social state is grim.

Speak up athletes, before the dangerous divide becomes too great to mend.

“It’s time to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, ‘What are we doing to create change?'” James said at the ESPYs last month. “It’s not about being a role model, it’s not about our responsibilities to the tradition of activism. … Let’s use this moment as a call to action for all professional athletes to educate ourselves, explore these issues, speak up, use our influence and renounce all violence.”

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