ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For more than 90 minutes on Tuesday morning, the Broncos' offense and defense took part in a pair of conversations with President/CEO Joe Ellis about recent acts of racial injustice and the ensuing demonstrations across the country.
As safety Kareem Jackson said Tuesday afternoon, it was a great beginning for the Broncos.
"I think today was great for us as a team to start that dialogue and we kind of split it up offensively and defensively," Jackson said. "That was great for Joe to be able to do that for us and also give us a chance to talk and let it be heard how we feel."
It cannot, Jackson said, be the end of the Broncos' efforts to battle systemic racism and police brutality.
"My takeaway from it was we have to figure out what we can do, not only as a team but as an organization," Jackson said. "How can we get out and how can we impact the Denver community? Maybe we can get out and put together a march as a team or something like that. I feel like we have to get out in the community and be heard, just with the opportunities that we have as professional athletes. I think it's huge for us to be heard and it's huge for us to be out in the community, so everyone can see us and know that we stand behind them and as a team, we're not only unified on the field, we're unified off the field, as well."
Jackson said he raised his desire for action during the defense's meeting, and he said he planned to discuss potential plans with teammates late on Tuesday.
Head Coach Vic Fangio, who joined the video conferences earlier Tuesday, spoke strongly against the police's actions that led to the death of George Floyd. Fangio also said he believed the Broncos and the NFL could lead the charge toward change.
"I was shocked, sad and angry when I saw [what] the policeman [did] to a handcuffed George Floyd on his stomach that led to his death," Fangio said. "He should be punished to the fullest extent of the law for the crimes he has been charged with, in addition to being charged with treason for failing to uphold the badge and the uniform he was entrusted with. I have the utmost respect and admiration for the police and the job they do under trying circumstances. They allow us to have a great country on a daily basis. The Minnesota cop failed the 99 percent of the police that do a great job and we are all paying a price for that."I've listened to many people talk the past few days and the one that resonated with me the most was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He also recognized that 98-99 percent of the police do a tremendous job in tough situations and we must do all we can to correct the small percentage that don't do a great job on a daily basis. Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] was one person talking sensibly and with some solutions.
"This is not a political issue. We have had similar situations in St. Louis in 2014, Baltimore in 2015 and others recently and prior to those. It's a societal issue that we all have to join in to correct. Good deeds and doing the right things by all in society will far outweigh people pontificating with their words or any amount of money can solve. Sports brings people together, and I look forward to the Broncos and the NFL leading that charge."
Jackson's partner in the defensive backfield, Justin Simmons, was among those who led efforts for change. Simmons led a peaceful protest on Sunday in Florida.
"I thought it was great," Fangio said. "Justin is a great person, a great leader and has his head screwed on correctly. He sees the problems and how they need to be solved and he's doing it peacefully and he's searching for solutions. It's easy for everybody to identify the problems — we all know the problems — but we need to search for solutions, and I think that Justin is one of those guys that will help us find solutions and lead us out of this mess that we're in."
Fangio was clear in his support for any of the team's players if they felt protesting was the correct method to make their voices heard.
"I encourage all of them to do what they feel is the best to do, just to be safe," Fangio said. "I think peaceful, constructive protests are good. If they feel like they need to play a part in that, I'm all for it."
Jackson said that showing unity is one such way the Broncos can move forward.
"Obviously for us, having so many guys in that locker room from all walks of life, all ethnicities, we all kind of grew up different from different parts of the world," Jackson said. "We all come together for one common goal and one cause, and that's to try to win ball games. When it comes to something like this when you see [it's at] a point where it's kind of dividing the world, that's why I said we need to get out as a team and show that … we're not only unified on the field, but we're unified off the field. We can all be brothers off the field. … This thing is affecting us as well, and I think that can start the healing process just amongst our community. It's a sad time we're going through right now, and obviously sports is one of the biggest things in which everybody has to be on the same page. For us, the amount of guys we have on the field at one time, we all have to be on the same page. So why can't we be on the same page when it comes to getting out in the community and doing something that's a great cause and helping bring everybody together?
"For me it's all about trying to bridge the gap right now, and it's obvious it's a gap. But we have to try to bridge the gap some type of way."
It's clear, though, that Jackson has a different perspective than some of his teammates, as he has experienced racial profiling firsthand. He said that during a traffic stop while he was with the Texans, a police officer's first words to him were to ask whose car Jackson was driving.
"For me, it's an insult," Jackson said. "Just right off the bat, what makes you ask me that question? Like I can't afford this type of car? Granted, they obviously don't know who I am, but because I'm an African-American driving a nice car, what makes you think I can't afford this car? I think that's the biggest issue. That's the obvious issue.
"Once we take the [football] uniform off, we're just like any other African-American in the community. It could be any of us in that situation. I think for us, trying to avoid those situations as much as possible is something we have to. But at the same time, some situations are unavoidable. We shouldn't have to go out and be in public and look over our shoulder just because of our race. That's definitely one of the things that has to come to a stop."
Jackson is hopeful his team and his country can make progress over the coming weeks, months and years — even if he doesn't expect change to occur in an instant.
"It's one of those things where I know at my age being 32, I probably won't see any change," Jackson said. "But for me, it's all about what can we change for the next generation. For them to not have to go out and not be able to wear hoodies at night or to not be able to ride their bikes late at night or just whatever — to drive nice cars and not be racially profiled because they're African-American, stuff like that. I'm definitely more hopeful now, but we have to continue to take the necessary steps in which we can be heard so these things don't continue to occur."
Jackson — much like Fangio, Simmons, Ellis and plenty of other members of Denver's organization — realizes the impact the Broncos can have on that process.
"I feel like as a team [and] as an organization," Jackson said, "we have to make a huge impact in the community when it comes to this issue."