In celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the ideals to which he devoted his life, it is only right to spend the day reflecting on the ways we continue the push for justice in his shadow.
The past year has been a particularly momentous one in that regard for so many of us, including many players on the Broncos.
Last spring, after a rash of killings of Black men and women, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, people around the country took to the streets to protest police brutality, systemic racism and racial inequity pervasive in our country. Dozens of Broncos players and coaches added their voice to the outcry for justice during a protest on June 6, and in the months that followed, the players and the team kept the cause a priority.
Later, after players returned to UCHealth Training Center and began training camp, the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, put police brutality back in the spotlight. The team canceled practice and instead held a meeting in which players were given the opportunity to speak to their teammates and coaches about whatever was on their mind and their heart given the tragic events in Melvin Gordon's hometown.
"I was so emotional because I have family that was out there that seen the shooting, and that could have been them," Gordon said on Aug. 27. "That could have been one of my family members getting shot in the back seven times. That could have been my family shot in the middle of the street — one of my family, one of my friends. And that was just so disheartening. … It hurts even more when hits at home — when it's at home and in your own backyard and it's your people."
At team headquarters, the events of the spring and summer inspired several initiatives.
The team launched the "Broncos Inspire Change" program in September to commit to meaningful change in the community and in the organization through four categories: Education, Awareness & Funding, Diversity & Inclusion and Activism.
Under that umbrella, Head Coach Vic Fangio instituted a new weekly "Power Hour" meeting that was dedicated to player-led social justice causes; the team announced a new senior-level position dedicated to diversity and inclusion; and the Broncos created "We Stand For," which puts a spotlight on player-selected causes.
At the end of the year, the Broncos announced a donation of more than $250,000 through the team's Social Justice Fund.
The players also utilized their platforms in novel ways to help create change in the Denver area. Several used their voices to push for a state bill to add more accountability in law enforcement. Later, a few players met virtually with the governor and worked with the ACLU of Colorado to push for clemency for incarcerated Coloradans who are imprisoned for nonviolent crimes and are at high risk for COVID-19.
"To see the little steps that we've taken — not just as an organization in Denver, but I think in the NFL — just the little steps that we've seen them take have been steps in the right direction, but always looking to keep that going, not to be stagnant and thinking that just doing a few things here and there and kind of just promoting a few things here and there will kind of change it, but always consistently staying on top of this from here on out," Justin Simmons said on Dec. 31. "It's been great seeing all the support and all of the communication heading in the right direction. I just hope it's not just because this year was so prominent in bringing all those things up. I hope that happens for years and years to come because we know how powerful the shield is and the NFL can be and there could be a lot of good change coming with that support."
Below the Fold
Simmons' and his teammates' efforts are at the center of a new feature story by Alex Burness in The Denver Post. In addition to tracing the roots of their actions this year, Simmons poignantly explains just why they couldn't exclusively focus on football this season. "Football is temporary," he said. "Being a black man in America is permanent. It's important to keep things in perspective."