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Melvin Gordon on the Unbreakable, Unbeatable Power of Friendship

By Ian Dille | October 17, 2016 | Rally Health

Depending on whom you ask, the friendship between NFL players Melvin Gordon and Trae Waynes began with either a crushing tackle, or an ankle-breaking juke.

“I was safety, and he came through the hole pretty clean, and I ended up standing him up,” says Waynes of the duo’s first on-the-field meeting, during a high school football practice in their hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin. “Oh, no, no,” replies Gordon. “Trae was the first person I shook when I got to Bradford. I shook him nasty.”

The legend, like all good legends, might not be entirely true.

“Honestly, that might have happened. I don’t think I even fell though,” admits Waynes.

“He hit the ground,” says Gordon.

Still, it perfectly exemplifies their off-the-field bond. They talk trash, they push each other to work harder and achieve more, and they act like teammates. More than teammates, even — more like brothers.

Melvin and Trae, just joking around. Photo via Melvin Gordon.
Melvin and Trae, just joking around. (Photo via Melvin Gordon.)

It seems unusual, of course, that the two NFL players and 2015 first-round draft picks would come from the same small town — a town that had never before produced such talent. But in looking at Gordon and Waynes’ friendship, and how that friendship made them stronger, the anomaly seems far less mysterious.

Tight-knit relationships make us healthier, social scientists and researchers agree. Studies have shown people with strong social networks experience less emotional stress, are physically healthier and less prone to bodily inflammation and cardiac disease, and even live longer — by as much as 20 percent. That’s why Rally Health, where Gordon is a Health Ambassador, encourages people to stay in touch with their friends.

In the case of Gordon and Waynes, their friendship helped push them to the highest expectations for themselves, and continues to do so now. Here’s how.

Friends Influence You

Like all mothers, Melvin’s mom, Carmen, worried about her son. She instilled in him the importance of doing the right thing and surrounding himself with good people.

So when Melvin met Trae — the two of them driven, athletic, and ridiculously competitive — and when Carmen met Trae’s parents, who are both middle school guidance counselors, it became immediately apparent to everyone this was a good fit.

Every weekend revolved around a sporting event, with Carmen often shuttling Melvin and Trae to and fro, or Trae’s parents doing the same.

“They worked so hard,” says Carmen. “Traveling to sports camps while other kids were on summer vacation.” They ran track and played baseball, but according to Carmen, football always came first. “If it didn’t pertain to football, they weren’t interested.”

They both shared a dream. First, to play for a Division I college. Then, to play in the NFL. And throughout high school, and then college, they held each other accountable to that dream. Now there’s a new goal: to succeed in the NFL.

Friends Lift You Up

During his senior year in high school, Gordon racked up over 2,000 yards and 38 touchdowns. He garnered recruiting letters from some of the nation’s most prominent college football programs. But Waynes, despite his blistering speed, struggled to catch the eye of collegiate scouts. “Being a running back, I have the ball in my hands a lot more, and I can show what I can do,” says Gordon. “Trae, being a defensive back, it’s a little bit different.” Local papers didn’t tout his pass breakups.

But Gordon believed in Waynes’ talent. Even though Gordon had already committed to the University of Wisconsin, he attended college football recruiting camps with Waynes to offer support both on and off the field. “Every camp I attended, I walked away with a scholarship,” says Waynes.

“He probably never said it, but I know it meant a lot to him for me to be there,” Gordon says. “It meant a lot to me to be there.”

Friends Relieve Stress

Imagine you’re 22 and you’ve been given tens of millions of dollars, as well as the expectations of thousands of fans that come with that kind of money.

“Having someone that’s in the same position as you, it helps,” says Gordon.

Gordon understands that his problems, in comparison to someone who’s trying to cover their mortgage, pay medical bills, or put food on the table, pale in comparison. But he’s human, and sometimes he struggles, too.

“To be able to go talk to someone who’s in that same position as you,” Gordon says. “They understand you, they’re able to talk to you, and relate to you at a level that you understand without you having to feel like, ‘I feel bad for trying to complain to this person about my situation.’” For Gordon, that person is often Waynes.

When Gordon injured his knee near the end of the 2016 NFL season and required surgery to repair damaged cartilage, Waynes implicitly knew how to listen to Gordon. What to say, and perhaps more important, what not to say, like constantly asking, “How’s your knee feeling?”

“He knows that I’m working. He doesn’t have to ask me if I’m working. He knows that I am,” Gordon says. “He knows how I want to be looked at, and where I want to be at the end of this. He knows I want to play a long time. If you’ve been around someone long enough, some questions don’t need to be asked.”

Instead, says Gordon, “He’ll ask me sometimes, ‘How you doing in practice?’ That’s all he needs to get a sense of how I’m doing.”

Friends Stay in Touch

As similar as Gordon and Waynes are athletically, their personalities differ. Gordon can be boisterous and outgoing. He loves to goof off and joke around. Those who know Waynes well say he’s quieter and more reserved. But they acknowledge and appreciate each other’s personality.

Gordon is famous for using social media, Snapchat in particular, for keeping tabs on friends and teammates. He’ll send them an inspirational message — like a video of an early morning workout while their competitors sleep — or simply share a joke, often something that only a friend like Waynes can truly get.

“The other day,” says Gordon, “I texted him, just joking around, like, man, I need some money, bro. I need some money.”

“Bro, how does a millionaire need some money?” Gordon says Waynes responded. “I just need about $20, I just need a couple dollars to help me get over,” Gordon texted. “He just laughed at me,” Gordon says.

“Grow up,” Waynes replied.

Ian Dille is a freelance journalist based in Austin, Texas. He has written for Outside magazine, Bicycling, and Texas Monthly, and is the author of The Cyclist’s Bucket List (Rodale, 2015).
Ian Dille
Rally Health