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Broncos CEO Ellis hears players feelings on country's civil unrest

Alexander Johnson, Dalton Risner among players who spoke during Zoom meeting. Both players laud Ellis for what was a powerful, emotional meeting.
Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Denver Broncos' Joe Ellis looks on during an NFL football game between the Denver Broncos and the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Denver.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — There is nothing wrong with a carefully worded statement as so many NFL teams and their leaders have issued in recent days.

Given the national outrage, though, a statement by itself seemed a little inadequate to Broncos Chief Executive Officer and President Joe Ellis.

A black man, George Floyd, was killed following what video showed was a knee-on-neck hold tactic that was administered by a white police officer, Derek Chauvin. Floyd’s death, which was roughly three weeks after the nation learned of a white father-and-son involved in a fatal shooting a black jogger, Ahmaud Arbery, in Georgia, has set off both peaceful protests and violent riots across the country.

Rather than issue a boilerplate statement, Ellis went to his office at the Broncos’ UCHealth Training Center to meet with his players Tuesday morning via Zoom video conference call. He both spoke to, and listened to, his players about the civil unrest that has occurred following the latest incident of social injustice.

Players exited the meeting with the sense Ellis listened more than he talked. Many players spoke up. By all accounts, it was a powerful, emotional meeting in which Ellis was among those who was moved to tears by the testimonies.

“It’s a blessing and an honor that we have Joe Ellis as the leader of our franchise,’’ said Broncos’ starting inside linebacker Alexander Johnson. “That right there goes a long way with us players when the leader of your organization can sit down with the players and talk to them face-to-face.

“He told us he grew up with a great family, a family of white privilege and he never had to experience what some of us have had to experience in our lifetimes. He said he couldn’t walk in our shoes, but he really cared about what was going on and what we felt about it.

“He said he was willing to listen and willing to help us in any manner he could. You could tell he was genuine and true from the heart.’’

Among the players who spoke, Johnson delivered one of the impassioned messages.

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“One thing I wanted to get across was, yes, it’s a black-and-white issue. But once we get past the black-and-white issue, we have to realize it’s really an issue of evil,’’ Johnson said. “It’s an evil that’s brought so much harm. We need to some-way, some-how get our leaders – professional leaders like chiefs, government, judges – leaders who can change the system.

“Yes, it’s good when a black person stands up and says the system needs change. But when a white man who’s a top leader in the country says something, more people will listen.’’

Johnson emphasized his message to his team by reading a Bible passage from chapter 6 of Ephesians: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities and the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Johnson said he and some of his teammates spoke of times they had been subjected to discrimination because of the color of their skin. White players like Broncos left guard Dalton Risner and rookie edge rusher Derrek Tuszka also shared their empathy.

“I just wanted to let all the players know that we’re a team,’’ Risner said. “We’re brothers. That’s what the Denver Broncos are about. There is no separation. There is a problem in the world and I let them know that there needs to be change.

“I wanted to let each and everyone of them know that I love them. I’m talking about my white teammates, I’m talking about my black teammates, I’m talking about my purple teammates. No matter what the color is, I wanted to let them know that I love them. We’re a team, we stick together.

“I wanted to let them know I wanted to understand as much as I can. I told them I come from a town (Wiggins) of 800 people. I know what white privilege is like. I wanted them to know I do not understand what they go through. I can never act like I understand. I want to try to understand what  they’re going through, but we’re never going to.

“I just wanted to let them know that I love them, and if they wanted to march down the street and they called me, then I’m their brother. I’m right next to him. I just wanted to spread the message that I have your back, man. This is more than teammates on an NFL football team. This is brothers. I think the more we bond together during times like this, the better football team we’ll be.

“Just want to know I love them and I’m there for them and I feel for them and I’m sorry. And anything I can do I’ll be with them a hundred, thousand percent.’’

The beauty of team sports is the only color a black, white, Latin American or Asian player sees is the color of the team uniform they’re wearing. Such equality does not always exist outside the locker room.

“This is something that’s been going on for a long time,’’ Johnson said. “And it still will go on after this. We have to get to the point where the leaders of the people, when they see one person downgrade another because of race, those people need to be called out and put away.’’

Johnson and Risner inferred that what the country needs is more leaders like Joe Ellis.

“It was the most heartfelt message I think any of us have gotten in a while,’’ Risner said of Ellis. “That man cares. He’s a great representation of Broncos football. What he did today was truly special. I don’t think a lot of people in the league are doing that for their teams. He did the same thing I did only better. He let the team know he was there for us. He understood there was an issue and that there needs to be change.’’

Added Johnson: “As players, we play for our families. We play for our teammates and our coaches. But when Joe Ellis sat there with us today and genuinely spoke from the heart, it makes you feel like it’s a blessing to be able to play for this organization.’’