Growing up in Alabama in the 1950s and '60s, Condoleezza Rice experienced adversity from a young age.
The former Secretary of State and current member of the Walton-Penner Family Ownership Group recently sat down with the Denver Post’s Mark Kiszla to discuss her journey to the Broncos' owners' box, and Rice recalled a moment from her childhood in which a visit with Santa Claus became one of her earliest experiences with racism.
"I'm five years old and going to see Santa Claus," Rice told Kiszla. "Santa Claus is taking all the little white kids and putting them on his knee while holding the black kids at arm's length. ... Racism did infuse everything in life. But it didn't stop you from succeeding. It made you very tough. You learned to deal with tough circumstances."
Rice's parents first brought her to Denver in 1960, where they earned graduate degrees that they were not allowed to pursue at the University of Alabama. In 1968, just months after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Rice and her family moved to Denver permanently, she told Kiszla.
And despite the Broncos' rough start as a franchise in the 1960s and early '70s, Rice instantly became a fan of her new city's football team.
"I was already a big football fan," Rice told Kiszla. "And I immediately loved the energy of the Broncos. ... We'd go to maybe one game per year because my father had connections that could get us tickets. We did not sit in the South Stands. We were not that rowdy. But I was there in the old Mile High Stadium many times during my youth."
The Broncos are intertwined with Rice's memories of her late father, with whom she shared a passion for the franchise. Now as a member of the Walton-Penner Family Ownership Group, she told Kiszla that he would be immensely proud of what she's accomplished.
"What would touch my dad most about me being involved with the Broncos is not only that I can do something in football, but that I could reconnect with a city we love and has meant so much to our family," Rice said.
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Cornerback Pat Surtain II was announced as one of 32 player nominees for the 2022 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award for exemplifying outstanding sportsmanship on the field, and Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett noted that Surtain is extremely deserving of the honor.
"He's a true pro," Hackett said Wednesday. "We've been talking about it this whole year. He's a true pro and he's a son of a player. He understands the league and understands everything. He's playing at a high level right now. He has been the whole year. It just shows — it's a testament to his character, the type of person he is and why he's going to grow into an even better player."