DENVER — Calling it a "societal issue we all need to correct," Broncos coach Vic Fangio opened his Tuesday press conference with a statement to the media, his first public comments since the civil unrest that has followed the death of George Floyd, an African-American.
Floyd's death has sparked protests across the country, including Denver for the sixth straight day. Floyd died when former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd's neck as Floyd said repeatedly, "I can't breathe." Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder.
"I was shocked, sad and angry when I saw the policeman do to a handcuffed George Floyd on his stomach that led to his death," Fangio said. "He should be punished to the fullest extent of the law for the crimes he has been charged with, in addition to being charged with treason for failing to uphold the badge and the uniform he was entrusted with. I have the utmost respect and admiration for the police and job they do under trying circumstances. They allow us to have a great country on a daily basis. The Minnesota cop failed the 99 percent of the police that do a great job. And we are all paying a price for that."
"I have listened to many people talk the last few days and the one that resonated with most is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar," Fangio said. "He also recognized that 98 to 99 percent of the police do a tremendous job in tough situations, and that we must all do what we can to correct the small percentage that don’t do a great job on a daily basis. Kareem was one person talking sensibly and with solutions. This is not a political issue. We have had similar situations in St. Louis in 2014 and Baltimore in 2015, and others recently and prior to those. It’s a societal issue that we all have to join in to correct. Good deeds and doing the right things by all in society will far outweigh people pontificating with their words or any amount of money can solve. Sports brings people together. And I look forward to the Broncos and the NFL leading that charge.”
Broncos safety Kareem Jackson called the video of Floyd's death "horrifying. ... We can't continue to live in a world where those things happen."
To that end, Jackson, who said he has been racial profiled, including during a traffic stop in Houston, plans to continue dialogue with teammates Tuesday. The Broncos coaches and players spoke with CEO Joe Ellis earlier about the civil unrest. Jackson suggested that the players might stage their own peaceful march in Denver.
"We need to get out as a team and show that we have people in the locker room from all walks of life. We can all be brothers off the field," Jackson said. "We have to be in a world we can promote change. The conversation has to start now and we have to put action behind the conversation."
Four seasons ago, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality of African-Americans, while advocating for social justice for citizens of color. No team has signed him over the past three years. I asked Jackson if he felt Kaepernick's message would resonate differently, and would people be more likely to listen?
"I am more hopeful now. It’s a shame that it’s under these circumstances. Kap started this years ago," Jackson said. "I am more hopeful. But at the same time, at age 32, I probably won’t see change. It’s about what can we change for the next generation."
NFL locker rooms have often been viewed as an ideal of how people of different races and backgrounds can unite for a common goal. Former Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, who also knelt during the national anthem four years ago, relayed that experience to Denver7 on Tuesday, saying how he remains good friends with white teammates with different perspectives.
Wednesday, Fangio drew sharp criticism for remarks he made during the Zoom presser when he said he didn't believe that racism and discrimination exist in the NFL. He was asked Tuesday about the evolution of player activism during his career in the NFL. There was an assumption when I listened that Fangio was discussing players and the locker room in this context. However, he did not specify that.
"I don’t know that it’s changed a whole lot, to be honest with you. I haven’t seen a great, great change other than -- I just don’t think there’s been a tremendous change, and I don’t say that to be negative. I think our problems in the NFL along those lines are minimal. We’re a league of meritocracy. You earn what you get, you get what you earn. I don’t see racism at all in the NFL. I don’t see discrimination in the NFL," Fangio said. "We live in a great atmosphere. Like I alluded to earlier, we’re lucky. We all live together joined as one for one common goal, and we all intermingle and mix tremendously. If society reflected an NFL team, we’d all be great."
Seahawks running back Chris Carson tweeted that the Broncos coach was a "a joke," and former Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. tweeted, he was "confused" by Fangio's answer. The NFL has been criticized for lacking diversity at the highest levels, featuring only four minority coaches and two minority general managers. Fangio has publicly supported the Rooney Rule in the past, a policy that requires minority candidates be interviewed for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. The league is considering expanding the scope of this policy.
Tuesday, Fangio encouraged his players to protest, "to do what they feel is the best to do," and praised safety Justin Simmons for speaking out during a protest last weekend in Florida.
"I thought it was great. Justin is a great person, a great leader and has his head screwed on correctly. He sees the problems and how they need to be solved, He’s doing it peacefully and he’s searching for solutions. It’s easy for everybody to identify the problems -- we all know the problems -- but we need to search for solutions," Fangio said. "I think that Justin is one of those guys that will help us find solutions and lead us out of this mess that we’re in."
Former Buccaneers and Colts coach Tony Dungy was asked about Fangio's comments regarding not seeing discrimination in the NFL. He agreed with Fangio that meritocracy exists in the locker room and on the field, but said issues remain.
"If you listen to that statement there’s a lot of truth to it. Vic talked about it being a meritocracy, and it is in the locker room and on the field. I think we had 29 African-Americans drafted in the first round out of 32 players, so, yes, there is progress there. And yes, there is working together. And a football locker room can be one of the greatest places in the world where you see people coming together from all different backgrounds chasing a common goal. So that is true," Dungy said ESPN's Golic and Wingo radio show.
"To say there's no racism and no problem, I think, really is not recognizing the situation. As you said, the league has talked about having 70-75 percent African American players and no black (team) presidents, just a couple of black general managers. ... It is not a complete meritocracy, even though it's a great place. And I think the same thing could be said of our country."
Per the team's website, Ellis talked with the team's players and coaches, stressing that there is no place racism or discrimination of any kind. Ellis' willingness to listen was well received by players reached by Denver7.
"It was great! It feels good to the heart that we have a leader that cares," linebacker Alexander Johnson said.
Added defensive lineman Christian Covington, "(It was) very positive."