Melvin Gordon, a running back for the Denver Broncos, spoke to ABC News about the nationwide protests for racial justice that sparked after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Gordon’s hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin.
On Sunday, after an alleged domestic dispute, Jacob Blake was seen in video being shot seven times in the back by a police officer while entering his car. Blake is now reportedly paralyzed and currently under heavy medication at a Wisconsin hospital. Outrage in Kenosha and elsewhere through the U.S. followed.
Gordon played football in Wisconsin for most of his life, including at the state’s flagship university. When he saw the news about Jacob Blake, he said he was deeply affected.
“I mean, it was just heartbreaking. I just instantly got sad, it just got sad. … After everything we’ve been through, everything we’re trying to accomplish as a whole, and to still see actions like this, especially back at my home, it’s just heartbreaking,” Gordon told ABC News.
In response to the incident, the Milwaukee Bucks decided to boycott their NBA playoff game Wednesday night, leading to a postponement of all league games that night. Their decision had a ripple effect on the sports world — other teams in the WNBA, MLS and MLB teams joined in the work stoppage, taking a stand against police brutality and social injustice.
“We have voices — players, athletes. We have a platform and it’s on us to use that. … We need guys like that to use that,” Gordon said about the NBA boycott. “We need guys like that to kind of step out of that comfort zone and help to make change.”
The decision to resume the NBA playoffs on Friday came Thursday after the league agreed to work with players on social reforms. This includes turning all team-owned NBA areas into safe, in-person voting centers on Election Day.
Several NFL teams announced they were canceling practices to meet and discuss issues of racial justice, including the Denver Broncos. Although Gordon said he’s not planning on sitting out the NFL season, he did say it’s a conversation that needs to be had, especially because he understands the fear that Black men have of police right now.
“If you’re of color, I know you’re afraid … the wrong move, the slightest move, could be the last move you make, could be the last time you see your family — anything!” Gordon said. “The fear I know is there, and I know that if you’re of color, no matter what, you have any encounter with a cop, it’s definitely going to come to your head like, ‘OK, I have to be very aware and cautious of anything and everything I do at this particular moment because it might be my last.'”
The NFL and NFL Players Association released a joint statement reacting to Blake’s shooting, supporting teams that have decided to cancel workouts.
“The NFL community is united more than ever to support one another in these challenging times. We share anger and frustration, most recently as a result of the shooting of Jacob Blake,” the statement said. “While our passions continue to run high, we are proud that our players and clubs, League and Union, are taking time to have the difficult conversations about these issues that affect the Black community and other communities of color in America.”
Gordon told ABC News he’s been receiving thoughtful support from teammates and coaches who stand with him in his fight for racial justice.
“It’s just guys having my back … you know, getting text messages like [from] coaches, players, even [Commissioner] Roger Goodell reached out to me, and that meant a lot,” said Gordon.
On the 57th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.s “I Have a Dream” speech, thousands of Americans gathered in Washington, D.C., demanding racial justice.
“Martin Luther King’s fighting this battle years ago,” Gordon said, “and here we are today still fighting this battle.”
ABC News’ Catherine Thorbecke contributed to this report.