Melvin Gordon and Trae Waynes have been among the NFL’s most generous players with sports-related activism efforts. However, as both looked at the current climate, they realized their money could only go so far; nothing can replace meaningful action. As sports and politics increasingly connect, players like Waynes and Gordon, who both grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, are going above and beyond to make their voices heard.
Melvin Gordon’s NFL career
Gordon first made waves at Kenosha Bradford High School in Wisconsin. Home to several former NFL players, although none in the past 30 years, Gordon and Waynes helped lead the school to national prominence. After graduating, Gordon made waves at the University of Wisconsin, where he became one of the country’s most heavily-sought-after prospects.
Spending his first seasons with the Chargers both in San Diego and LA, Gordon entered the league with lofty expectations. One of his draft class’s top running backs, Gordon has been in the NFL for five years now. While the Chargers struggled to make waves in the NFL, Gordon’s numbers speak for themselves.
Gordon went from a secondary to primary option in just two years. In 2017, he became the Chargers’ full-time starter, rushing for 1,105 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s missed a few games in the days since. But the star running back, now with the Broncos, got to where he is thanks to hard work.
Trae Waynes’ football journey
Waynes had an equally impressive sting at Kenosha Bradford. Like his former classmate, he found himself on the radar of many top schools. Waynes settled on Michigan State, where he spent three years under Mark Dantonio. By 2015, he was ready for the NFL. With the 11th pick in the draft, the Vikings chose him four spots ahead of where the Chargers drafted Gordon.
For five years, Waynes rose from a role player on the Vikings offense to one of the team’s most important members. Although he doesn’t have many individual accolades, the cornerback’s defense has been a significant part of Minnesota’s limited success. Waynes’ 2017 campaign was especially good. He amassed 57 solo tackles and two interceptions.
However, his 2020 season is doubtful as a pectoral injury will likely keep him out for most of the season. However, with so much going on in his hometown, Waynes is not concerned with football at the moment.
Bigger than sports
After a summer of unrest across the U.S., reports The Undefeated, Waynes and Gordon saw Kenosha’s beloved hometown fall into the national spotlight. A video showed a police officer shooting an unarmed black man, Jacob Blake, seven times. This helped Gordon see why it was so important to stand up.
“This happened in a city where I was born, and this is something that could have happened to somebody in my family,” Gordon told The Undefeated. “Just watching the video and you think, ‘are people this cruel?’ And why is this still happening with everything that is going on?”
Waynes acknowledged that some police officers were a part of his community growing up. But he says he doesn’t understand why they continually feel the need to use excessive force
“The police were umpiring our little league games and really involved with the people,” Waynes said to The Undefeated. “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… 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.”
Waynes said that while he has done a lot for the community financially, Kenosha’s events helped him realize that he needed to do more than donate. He needed to get involved.
“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.”
With the season ahead of them, Waynes and Gordon are doing everything they can to help people realize that sports are not a distraction from real-world problems. Instead, they are an avenue for those without a voice to get involved.