DENVER — It was quarterback Drew Lock who first told his teammates something more than talk needed to be done.
This was Tuesday as Broncos chief executive officer Joe Ellis opened discussion with the team about the civil unrest in our country that had deeply affected so many players.
Then veteran safety Kareem Jackson started thinking about organizing a team march to peacefully protest police brutality and racism in this country following the death two weeks ago of George Floyd at the knee of Minnesota policeman Derek Chauvin.
Then Jackson’s marketing people got in touch with Neil Yarbrough and a group of young civil rights activists who Denver Mayor Michael Hancock largely credits for helping to calm the city’s protests from violent riots to peaceful protests in recent days.
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Jackson and linebacker Todd Davis started calling players, who were scattered throughout the country, to join in on the team’s protest and march.
By Saturday afternoon – a mere 5 days after Lock told his team talking about it on Zoom wasn’t enough – approximately 50 Broncos players, all 25 of its coaches who were uniformly dressed in black T-shirts and sporting black masks with the words “I Can’t Breathe,” (the slogan “Black Lives Matter” activists have used to honor Eric Gardner, who died from a policeman’s choke hold in 2014, and Floyd) -- and thousands of concerned citizens gathered at Civic Center Park for the Broncos' march and demonstration.
“It’s a testament to the guys we have in this locker room and the organization,’’ Jackson said of putting words into action in just five days. “We threw some ideas out there and we came together on it and we decided what we wanted to do and everybody supported one another in making our choice.”
The event began at the park’s stage area, where Yarbrough served as the master of ceremonies before Broncos outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu led everyone in prayer. Then Attaochu, who came to America from Nigeria when he was eight years old, spoke about the school systems in this country and the need for policy changes.
”You can’t keep putting a band-aid on an old wound,’’ Attaochu said to the crowd. “Overt police brutality, hate, racism, that is all built by the system and the younger generation is tired of it. We want some real healing. We need to heal as a country.’’
Justin Simmons, Davontae Harris, Alexander Johnson, De’Vante Bausby and Von Miller were the other Broncos players who spoke to the large gathering.
Then the Broncos led a march that was supposed to last 30 to 45 minutes, but with the crowd extending at least two blocks long, the young leaders called a few audibles and extended the walk for nearly 90 minutes through the downtown streets. This included a five-minute water break beneath sunny, 80-degree air at the intersection of 15th Street and Glenarm Place.
“It’s super important that we’re all here,’’ Lock told 9NEWS in the waiting area behind the state Capitol building before the Broncos’ demonstration began. “I applaud Kareem Jackson and Todd Davis for getting us in action.’’
The action came after their quarterback expressed an idea.
“We talked about it as a team to where we can all get together and voice some stuff in a Zoom meeting full of 45, 50, 90 people,’’ Lock said. “What I ended up saying to the whole team -- and guys took it and ran with that -- was that us talking about it in a Zoom meeting and trying to fix it with us stating our opinions is like going into an offensive staff meeting and only saying we need to score points. We need a first down play and a second down play and a third down play.
“And that’s what we ended up putting together today. This is our first-down plan and to be able to put something down in action finally was huge for us.’’
Simmons and Miller were among several Broncos who flew into Denver on Friday so they could join the team march on Saturday.
Simmons has not been allowed to participate in the Broncos’ team meetings because he has not signed his franchise tag tender. It’s a business thing. But as the protest and march were not an official team function, he flew in from Florida to join his teammates.
Simmons challenged white people to speak out against racism.
“Because white people have more power in their voice than we have in our voices and that is a fact,’’ he said.
Miller, who fought off a bout with COVID-19 last month, has resumed training in San Francisco. He flew in to Denver on Friday night and will fly back to San Francisco on Sunday.
“The time is always right to do what’s right,’’ said Miller, the Broncos’ final speaker. “Once we have awareness, we’ve got to come up out of oblivion. … We’ve got to use our moral compass on what’s right. Black, white, it doesn’t matter. It’s 2020. Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Jim Brown are still fighting this fight. It’s up to us to keep it going.
“My teammates they’re killing it up here. I’m in the locker room with these guys each and every day. I’m proud of these guys. I’m proud of Denver, I’m proud of the state of Colorado. We’ve got to keep this going.”
The march was spirited with periodic chants that included “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” and “I Can’t Breathe.”
Several Bronco players and coaches talked about how powerful and meaningful the protest was to them.
“Definitely. To get out here and see so many people here, all in the favor of social justice and racial equality,’’ Jackson said before climbing into an awaiting team bus. “It was amazing today, just to see all the ethnicities. You had African Americans, pretty much everybody who supported out here today.”
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