DENVER — The last of the speeches were shared and the Broncos’ contingent of 75-plus strong started moving down from the Civic Center Park theater stage to begin their long, warm march through the downtown streets of Denver.
At that point, longtime national civil rights leader Alvertis Simmons spotted Broncos coach Vic Fangio in the middle of the group and asked for a moment.
Fangio, wearing a light blue cap, black T-shirt with George Floyd’s portrait drawn on the front, and black mask with "I Can’t Breathe," written over his mouth, stopped and talked at length with Simmons.
They moved slowly, stopping intermittently to give their conversation its due, until Fangio and Simmons fell to the very back of the peaceful but spirited march that was thousands deep.
"I talked to coach Fangio about his comments," Simmons said. "There was nothing racist intended about his statements. When he said there was no racism in the NFL he was talking about coaching (his players and staff), and he wasn’t talking about culture. Culturally, he believes there’s racism and it needs to stop."
Fangio had said during a Zoom press conference with some Denver media on Tuesday that he didn’t see racism and discrimination in the NFL.
That statement was denounced by several NFL players and sports media personalities who primarily pointed to the lack of minorities at top-level executive and coaching positions in the NFL, and the Colin Kaepernick situation.
The next day, Fangio clarified his statement to his players, and issued a public apology.
"While reflecting on my comments yesterday and listening to the players this morning, I realize what I said regarding racism and discrimination in the NFL was wrong," Fangio said in a statement. "While I have never personally experienced those terrible things first-hand during my 33 years in the NFL, I understand that many players, coaches and staff have different perspectives. I should have been more clear and I am sorry."
Alvertis Simmons, though, wanted to hear from the coach himself. Prior to the Broncos’ peaceful protest against racism and policy brutality Saturday afternoon, Simmons spoke powerfully at a smaller, Black Lives Matter rally at Civic Center Park.
Simmons came away from his conversation with Fangio believing the Broncos’ coach is genuinely concerned about creating change in both the NFL and the country.
"I want to thank the coach," Simmons said. "He didn’t do anything in a racist manner. I don’t think coach Fangio has a racist bone in his body."
Simmons said Fangio had heard from many of his former black coaches and players who gave him their support.
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