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Sports world reacts to Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty verdict in Kenosha protest shooting

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Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who shot and killed two men and wounded a third during the protests and rioting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was found not guilty by a jury on all charges on Friday. It drew reactions from athletes, many of whom had walked out of games last summer following the police shooting of Jacob Blake that prompted the protests. 

Rittenhouse, who is white, was 17 in August 2020. He had an AR-style semiautomatic rifle with which he shot Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, Anthony Huber, 26, and Gaige Grosskreutz, 26. Rosenbaum and Huber died. All three are white. 

Rittenhouse faced five felony counts, including first-degree intentional homicide. The misdemeanor charge of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18 was dropped by the judge on Monday. His lawyers argued that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense while the prosecution argued he instigated the shootings, per New York Times reporting of the trial.

The shooting of Blake, a Black man left partly paralyzed, spurred protests around the sports world, led by Milwaukee Bucks, NBA and WNBA players opting not to play games for a night at their respective Florida bubble sites. Following the Bucks' lead, the Milwaukee Brewers led a walkout. Other sports followed. 

Athletes around the nation reacted to the verdict on social media, with many noting they weren't surprised and questioning if it would have been the same had Rittenhouse been Black. 

The Bucks beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-89 at Fiserv Forum, which sits about 40 miles from Kenosha. 

Athletes react to Rittenhouse verdict

Los Angeles Sparks forward and ESPN analyst Chiney Ogwumike referenced the verdict coming the day after Oklahoma inmate Julius Jones had his death sentence commuted. Baker Mayfield and other prominent athletes advocated for Jones in the lead-up.

"We talked about [the verdict] a little bit as a team," Bucks star Khris Middleton said after their win, via ESPN. "Speaking for myself it was definitely disappointing, but at the same time, it really wasn't surprising about the verdict. I watched [the trial] a little bit, and was able to keep up with it, but it's something that I think we've all seen over and over again."

NBA coaches speak out after Rittenhouse verdict

Several NBA coaches spoke out about the verdict on Friday night, too.

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who is one of the most outspoken in the NBA, offered a grim warning.

β€œThe fact that we are seemingly OK with a teenager's right to take an AR-15 into an area where there is civil unrest, that's really scary and concerning," Kerr said, via ESPN. "This is where we are with gun laws. This is why we have to have safer gun laws in place to protect ourselves, to protect each other.

"It wasn't a shocking verdict, but one that poses great risk going forward if we continue to go down this path of open carry and states determining that people that people can carry, even underage people, weapons of war. This is America. Treading down a dangerous path."

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said he planned to have a conversation with the Bucks before their win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

The best thing to do, he said, is to keep pushing for change.

β€œStill trying to push for better in our country,” he said, via ESPN. β€œHoping for improvement. Organizationally, just continue to fight for social justice, for better. But at the same time, have to abide by the jury and the decision and the verdict and continue to fight for better."

Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash was asked about the verdict before their narrow win over the Orlando Magic at the Barclays Center β€” where there was an added police presence on Friday night, as that’s a popular protest spot in the borough.

"Clearly these situations are disappointing and it's important to not become demoralized and for people to continue to fight for the type of justice and equality that serves all," Nash said, via ESPN. "While I think it raises a lot of eyebrows, questions, a lot of pain, we recognize there has to be a path forward.

"It can't be, 'well this is just the way it is,' and so I think the movement that we've experienced, one way or the other, is pushing change. Even if you can't see that change on a daily basis or even year by year, over the course of time, without that type of attention and willpower to come together and fight for a brighter future, I think there would be no change, and it's paramount in the seeds of change. So I think these are always opportunities for us to look in the mirror."

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