On Thursday morning, as Melvin Gordon III stood before his teammates, his coaches and the organization's president and CEO, all eyes were on him.
What brought Gordon to the front of this team meeting was the chance to speak about the most recent national event in this country's epidemic of police brutality.
On Sunday, Aug. 23, police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, were called to respond to a domestic dispute. The officers attempted to arrest Blake, who is Black, and failed to halt him with a Taser. As neighbors taped the encounter, Blake walked around the front of his car with officers following behind closely, the nearest one with his gun drawn. Just after Blake, who was unarmed, opened the driver-side door, the closest officer grabbed his shirt from behind and proceed to fire seven times into his back. Blake’s children were in the car. Blake is now paralyzed from the waist down.
Then, on Tuesday, as people protested against police brutality, two people were shot and killed and one person was injured.
The shooting and aftereffects hit close to home for Gordon, because Kenosha is his home.
On Thursday afternoon, Gordon spoke with ESPN Madison’s Jim Rutledge about his reaction to the shooting — and more than that, he spoke about the frustration of seeing people ignore the realities of it.
"This is the problem," Gordon said. "You try to find and justify a reason for shooting a man seven times in the back. I just don't understand — in front of the kids, friends, family — and when there's three guys there. It's not like he's putting up a fight or anything. It's just, there are better ways to go about that than just pulling a trigger on a man. …
"I was so emotional because I have family that was out there that seen the shooting, and that could have been them. That could have been one of my family members getting shot in the back seven times. That could have been my family shot in the middle of the street — one of my family, one of my friends. And that was just so disheartening. … It hurts even more when hits at home — when it's at home and in your own backyard and it's your people."
Gordon also shared his personal feelings on his previous interactions with police and why, even though those interactions have mostly been good, he will always hold some fear in his heart when he's pulled over.
"The first thing I think of when I get pulled over — I probably say, 'Yes, sir,' about a million times," Gordon said. "And the crazy thing is I've met more good cops than I've met bad, in all reality — and I don't know if they're just good to me because I give them my license and they realize who I am. But I'll be scared. I'll be scared to make the wrong move. … I'm not blind to seeing what's going on. I see it and I'll be nervous, but most of the cops that I've had an encounter with, they've actually been great guys. Nothing [like] what I've seen on social media, but that still doesn't take away from the fear when I get pulled over making a wrong turn or driving a little too fast or in a car doing whatever, whatever the case may be, that I'm not afraid that if I make the wrong move, it might be my last move."
After the protests in May and June responding to the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the shooting in Kenosha was particularly disheartening for Gordon and so many others because it feels like nothing has changed.
"We're trying to do things the right way, and it just seems as if nothing is coming across good enough because yet we continue to see actions like that," Gordon said. "It's just sad, man. It's just sad, because you're putting Black people in a corner and it's just like, 'Man, our hands is tied. … What do you want us to do at this point?'"
In searching for an answer to that within himself and among his teammates during Thursday's team meeting, Gordon said that the only option is to continue to present his perspective.
"It's just trying to change people's minds at this point," Gordon said. "One of our coaches, he talked and he said, 'Martin Luther King tried to do this; it's just a battle we've been battling with for years.' … We might not see change in our generation, but what our coach mentioned today [was that] we'll have kids, I'll have kids, and hopefully the change can be for them. Things don't happen overnight. We can't get people to realize things overnight. But we have to take steps toward that."
When that meeting concluded, Gordon wasn't finished. He wanted a photo to represent his message.
"Today I had the whole Denver organization, just everyone, line up and take a picture together just to let … my community know and everyone around us and everyone in other states know that we're behind this movement as a whole and we all stand united as one, of all color, in the building," Gordon said. "And I can't be at home right now, so this Denver Broncos [organization] is my family, and I just wanted to let them know that we are behind them in every way and every shape and form."
Below the Fold
Gordon's speech to the team was moving, Justin Simmons told Denver7’s Troy Renck. "Mel was the first one to grab the mic," Simmons said. "Within the first two words he said, he just broke down. You could just feel the air in the room go, evaporate. It was a surreal type feeling. It felt like one of my family members up there talking."
Another Bronco with Wisconsin roots, Milwaukee native Shelby Harris, spoke to 9NEWS’ Mike Klis on Thursday after the team meeting. Like, Gordon, he shared the frustration with the lack of progress. "It's a sad situation that we have to keep talking about this over and over again," Harris said. "But we've got to keep the conversation going. The sad part is how these things keep going on and nothing is really changing."