ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the focus inside UCHealth Training Center turns toward the upcoming football season and how it will proceed amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, the push for greater social and racial justice in America will not be left behind.
When the first game of the 2020 arrives — on Sept. 14 for the Broncos — the NFL will likely see a wave of players exercising their free speech and right to protest on the fields where they go to work every week during the fall. This will probably take the form of kneeling during the national anthem, keeping in line with previous protests in previous years, including the one made famous by Colin Kaepernick in 2016 at the encouragement of former Green Beret Nate Boyer.
With the possibility that the Broncos and teams across the league will kneel during the upcoming season, Broncos President and CEO Joe Ellis said that he and the organization would support Broncos players regardless of their choice, which could be made as a group decision among the players.
"Everyone's got a right to do as they please, express themselves how they feel, and I'm going to respect that and we're going to respect that as an organization," President and CEO Joe Ellis said Tuesday. "I think once we get down to 53, my guess is that the players will meet and convene and they'll want to do something as a team. I will be there to listen and learn, and it's been an eye-opening period of, what, about three months now. And as I've said, I'm going to respect whatever it is they decide to do. We're going to stand by that as an organization."
This year, the image of kneeling protesters across the country has gained added meaning after Minneapolis resident George Floyd was killed by a police officer when he kneeled on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes as he asphyxiated on the pavement with his hands handcuffed behind his back.
In the weeks after Floyd's death, protests spread across the country in an unprecedented fashion.
As emotions burned and players searched for the right avenue to make their voices heard, Ellis first joined the conversation in video conference calls with the team to hear players' thoughts on the matter, in addition to other recent killings, including that of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.
The stories he heard would make quite the impact; days later he would be marching alongside them through downtown Denver.
"I wanted to hear from them; we all kind of wanted to hear from them and their feelings on the matters," Ellis said. "… The meetings lasted over an hour. Multiple players spoke up — eloquently, passionately, emotionally, shared personal experiences that they each had. And for someone like myself, it was a significant eye-opener. So I've spent a lot of time reflecting on that.
"The march, I got to talk to several of the new players, and it was enlightening. It was cordial. Some of the older guys brought their kids, and I think that was the thing … that I'll carry with me the most, was people like Kareem Jackson and Jurrell Casey and Todd Davis and others saying, 'I just don't want it to be this way for my kids.'
To add more action to that initial decision, Ellis discussed the team's support for players and the causes they want to support.
"What I've told them is we're committed to addressing these issues with you," Ellis said. "We are going to keep listening to you. But the one thing we can't do is we can't drop it. We have to stick with it."
At the moment, progress is still being made in the organization as staff members formulate plans alongside players.
But even as things become more concrete, one thing that will continue to be vital in the conversation is simply being willing and open to listen.
"We're committed to following through for them and keeping to going as we move forward," Ellis said. "And that was the thing, just to listen to those players … and hear their stories and hear their anger and their passion toward this, it caught my attention to say the least."
On Saturday, June 6, 2020, many Broncos players, coaches and other members of the organization took part in a protest for racial justice in downtown Denver.