Orange and blue are two colors that typically come to mind when popular culture considers the Denver Broncos. After the team swept the 1977 season, claiming the AFC championship, the celebrated Orange Crush defense fell short of the Lombardi Trophy, losing to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XII. Despite the title loss, the Orange Crush sensation created an historic, even mythical image that still resonates among Denver Broncos aficionados.
This year, after headlines announced that the Walton-Penner Family Ownership Group bought the team, attention initially focused on the price tag ($4.65 billion) and the principal purchasers (including Rob Walton of Wal Mart fame and fortune.) However, subsequent reports about the shifting guard highlight colors other than the iconic orange; these colors herald another historic chapter in the Denver Broncos history. Ownership not only includes members of the Walton-Penner family, but also three Black superstars of business, government, academia and sports. They include Mellody Hobson of Ariel Investments and Starbucks; Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. national security advisor and secretary of state as well as current director of the Hoover Institution; and Formula One Titan Sir Lewis Hamilton, who made the sale even more historic beyond the staggering sum paid for the team.
All three are part of the ownership group. All three are people of color. Subsequently, the Denver Broncos added Damani Leech as team president and Tim Aragon as general counsel, expanding the
diversity pool. Quarterback Russell Wilson, who is of mixed ethnic background that includes primarily African and European lineage, expressed his pride and gratitude over the diversity in the team’s leadership. “What a tremendous accomplishment and what a gift to be able to do what she’s going to do,” Wilson relayed to Denver Broncos Wire about Hobson. “She’s the first Black woman to do this. This
is a big deal. This is history. I think it’s gone over people’s heads a little bit. It’s news. It’s a tremendous representation for minorities, but Blacks in particular.”
While the mainstream recognizes Rice’s name and accomplishments, her inclusion in the group marks an additional milestone. With Lewis, Leech and Aragon onboard, the team leadership resembles the diverse fan base that watch from bleachers, bar stools and boob tubes. Rice posted a Facebook announcement on the import associated with the inclusion. “It’s an honor to be part of this ownership group,” Rice expressed. “Football has been an integral part of my life since the moment it was introduced to me, and I am thrilled to be part of the Denver Broncos organization today. I spent much of my younger years in Denver, so to be able to combine my love of the game with my love for this great city and team is an adventure of a lifetime and a great opportunity.”
A headline on MileHighSports.com announced, “Denver Broncos should be celebrated for setting standard in diversity of leadership.” In the article, Rich Kurtzman wrote, “For the Denver Broncos diversity is king. And that’s a wonderful thing.” Later Kurtzman noted the NFL’s longstanding “diversity problem in leadership” and later continued that it “…not only has a diversity problem, it has a homophobic, toxicity problem too. Now the Denver Broncos are leading the way in terms of diversifying their leadership, showing others the path. That should be celebrated and copied across the NFL.”
The Denver Broncos made history previously with a first when Marlin Briscoe became the first Black starting quarterback in pro football in 1968. The Washington Post reported that while Briscoe had accomplished that feat, Denver Broncos Coach Lou Saban denied him the opportunity to compete for quarterback the following year, which led to Briscoe’s decision to leave the team. Fast forward a half century and minority members include the Denver Broncos quarterback, president, general counsel and members of ownership. With the diverse members throughout the organization making headline news across traditional and new media, the public will likely associate the Denver Broncos with colors other than orange and blue and, as Kurtzman advised, hopefully inspire similar shifts across the NFL.