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Melvin Gordon and Trae Waynes can’t believe what’s going on in their hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin

‘This happened in a city where I was born, and this is something that could have happened to somebody in my family’

Denver Broncos running back Melvin Gordon was in between team meetings when he got the video via text on Sunday from his longtime friend, Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Trae Waynes. What Gordon watched on his phone — the video showing Jacob Blake being shot in the back by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin — left him rattled.

“I was distraught,” Gordon said. “Every time you see these videos, it’s sad. But this one messed up my whole mood.”

It’s a video that hit home for Gordon and Waynes. That’s because Kenosha, a lakefront city of just under 100,000 people and 40 miles south of Milwaukee, is where both went to middle school together, both were scholastic stars at Bradford High School and both have given back to since becoming the first high school teammates selected in the first round of the same NFL draft since 1990 in 2015.

Melvin Gordon (left) and Trae Waynes (right) played together at Bradford High School in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Courtesy Erin Waynes

“This happened in a city where I was born, and this is something that could have happened to somebody in my family,” Gordon said. “Just watching the video and you think, ‘are people this cruel?’ And why is this still happening with everything that is going on?”

The Kenosha a nation has discovered this week — through the shooting of Blake, and the days of violence that left two people dead in a shooting two nights later — is almost unrecognizable to Gordon and Waynes. Both come home during the off-season to give back to the community through sponsorships of camps and tournaments, and both have memories of a city not terribly divided by racial hostility.

“A lot of sweet people, and a really great place to grow up,” Gordon said of the city. “Maybe with me and Trae, they treated us differently because of who we were. I never had a run-in with the cops there, and never had any bad encounters.”

Waynes remembers a Kenosha where officers were involved and connected with the local community which, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, had a population that was 10% black.

“The police were umpiring our little league games and really involved with the people,” Waynes said. “They were at a lot of the local events supporting kids. My parents are both in the school system, so I knew several officers growing up.”

Which makes the events from Sunday even more perplexing.

“How do you go from being a part of the community to doing something stupid like this?” Waynes said. “There’s four of y’all, and you can’t detain one person walking to his car like that? It’s unacceptable.”

That shooting has led to days of protests, which resulted in the city being put under curfew. Kenosha police chief Daniel Miskinis blamed people not respecting the curfew on the shootings that came days after the incident with Blake, leaving two people dead. “The curfew’s in place to protect,” Miskinis said during a news conference Wednesday. “Had persons not been out involved in violation like that, perhaps the situation that unfolded would not have happened.”

Yet enforcement of that curfew by law enforcement, based on video of the events of Tuesday, appears selective. While police warned protesters as they cleared the streets, law enforcement officials could be seen thanking individuals with long guns for assisting them, even offering them water.

One of those individuals who was thanked was Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old from Illinois who was arrested in the shooting incident.

“You got people coming in from Illinois trying to take control of the situation that have no business being a part of it,” Waynes said. “And to make it worse, the kid’s underage. It just goes to show there’s a lot of foul stuff within the system for that even to be allowed to happen. How do you shut down all the roads in Kenosha, and people are coming in with guns?

“When Jacob got shot, people tried to give reasons why he deserved it,” Waynes added. “And then you got a white kid who shouldn’t have even had a gun, who isn’t even from Wisconsin, killing two people and shooting others. And people are saying ‘well, it’s self-defense.’ The system is a joke, and it’s not going to change because people are not going to admit that it’s wrong.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recently said he was wrong for not believing then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick when he first took a knee in 2016 while taking a stand against racial injustice, a move that appears to have cost Kaepernick his football career.

“At this time, I really don’t know how to take him saying he’s sorry,” Gordon said. “It’s good to see that he’s apologetic. I feel like some people just probably never had the experience and problems that we’ve been going through since we were younger, and before we were alive. Now he’s able to see it and is able to feel our pain. So I wouldn’t say his apology is B.S.”

The shooting of Blake has resulted in a week in which the NBA playoffs and games and matches involving the WNBA, MLB, MLS and professional tennis were affected. Gordon’s Broncos canceled practice on Thursday along with several other NFL teams. It’s a sign of more freedom for professional athletes to express themselves, which Gordon and Waynes welcome.

“I think it’s great,” Waynes said. “I feel sports organizations really didn’t have a choice. They were kind of forced to let us know we can have a voice and not make us feel we have to shut up and play. The fact that athletes are allowed to express ourselves more and reach out to the rest of the world is amazing.”

Gordon said a lot of the silence from athletes in the past was based on fear.

“Guys were afraid to get looked at some type of way,” Gordon said. “Now we can express how we really feel and we have so many different platforms to do it.”

Knowing that their hometown will be left with scars that won’t go away anytime soon, Waynes and Gordon have discussed ways they can, together, help their city heal.

“We’ve covered funeral expenses for people who’ve died [in recent years in Kenosha], and we’ve helped out with someone we grew up with who was battling cancer,” Waynes said. “We have to find a way to give back on a more personal level, and not just providing money that’s going to help the football program. We’ve been talking about doing more that benefits our community and the people within it.”

Gordon agreed.

“Those people in Kenosha have loved me before they found out I was Melvin Gordon who could play football,” Gordon said. “We’ve always tried to give back and, at this point, we have to do more.

“We have the networks to try to find and do something that can help better the community, and not just through giving money,” Gordon added. “Because, clearly, what we’ve done hasn’t been enough.”

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at The Undefeated. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright, and watching the Knicks play an NBA game in June.