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'How do we fix this?' Broncos join fight for racial justice

Details of the meeting that led to coach Vic Fangio cancelling the Broncos practice Thursday in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake.
Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Denver Broncos defensive end Shelby Harris takes part in drills during an NFL football training practice Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, in Englewood, Colo.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — At 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Broncos head coach Vic Fangio sent word to his players there would be a special meeting held the following morning at 8:10.

It was unusual because Fangio doesn't hold team meetings before training camp practices. Players come in, take their daily COVID-19 test, eat some breakfast and take the field at 9:15 a.m. practice. Meetings are held after practice.

The players were off Wednesday, but Fangio was in his office, doing all that NFL head coaches do for 12, 14 hours a day. He was kept abreast with the Milwaukee Bucks boycotting their NBA playoff game in protest of Jacob Blake getting shot seven times in the back by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The Bucks standing down for their own quickly became a national story as two other NBA playoff games were cancelled. This is why Fangio called the special meeting that would be held in the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse the next morning. By the time he had stepped in front of his team, several NFL teams in the Eastern and Central time zones had already cancelled their scheduled practices for Thursday. Others decided to practice.

Fangio began the meeting by saying a few words, then turned the podium over to his players. Approximately a dozen players got up to speak, most notably Melvin Gordon, the Broncos' new running back who was born and raised in Kenosha. Gordon was emotional. That team photo the Broncos took from inside the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse? It was Gordon's idea. He wanted his hometown family and friends to see the Broncos were in this together for them.

After hearing what the players had to say, Fangio stepped up at about 10 a.m. -- 45 minutes after the Broncos' Thursday practice was scheduled to start -- and said it was clear the team shouldn't practice.

"We never necessarily said weren’t going to practice but Vic said practice is cancelled,'' Broncos defensive end Shelby Harris told 9News as he was about to drive away from UCHealth Training Center on Thursday.

Yes, it was Fangio who cancelled practice but it was really the players' testimonies that called it off. Fangio just read the room.

The players could have gone home right there, enjoyed the day, scheduled a tee time, but instead Brandon McManus walked in front of the room. The Broncos' kicker and union rep suggested the players stick around and come up with constructive ideas.

After a break, the players gathered in small groups and talked. Later, each group made a presentation. Most notably, the players want police reform. 

"We have a problem on our hands," Harris said. "We need to start making a difference and it starts by the laws that we make and with the politicians it starts there because they can implement policy change and protect your citizens. Half of your country shouldn’t feel threatened by someone who is supposed to keep him safe."

This is a group of Broncos players that wants to do more than protest with a cancelled practice. Safety Kareem Jackson organized a peaceful protest march in June through downtown Denver following the death of George Floyd.

On Thursday, the players didn't start going home until mid-afternoon.    

"It has to start somewhere where it has to be accountability somewhere you can’t get off scot-free for killing someone, shooting them seven times in the back while you’re holding his shirt,'' Harris said. "It makes no sense and honestly we’re just fed up with it."

The more Harris talked, the more you could feel his conflicted emotions stir. He went from exasperated to angry to having hope to fear.

"It’s disheartening, but how do we make a change?" Harris told 9NEWS as he was about to drive away from UCHealth Training Center on Thursday. "How do we fix this? How do we make a difference in this world so that my kids will be safe and don’t have to fear police brutality? 

"It’s a sad situation that we have to keep talking about this over and over again. But we’ve got to keep the conversation going. The sad part is how these things keep going on and nothing is really changing."

Harris grew up in Milwaukee, about 40 miles north of Gordon in Kenosha.

The incident didn’t just hit home with Harris and Gordon, though. 

The Broncos put out a statement:

"Following a team meeting this morning to discuss the horrific events in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the many social injustices around the country, the Denver Broncos have put off all football activities for today," the Broncos said in a statement.

"As an organization we are outraged and disgusted with the shooting of Jacob Blake. Our hearts go out to his children, his family and the entire Kenosha community. While this tragedy took place in Melvin Gordon’s hometown of Kenosha, this hits home for all of us.

"In the strongest terms we condemn police brutality, excessive force and these senseless acts of violence that have caused so much pain. It is time for accountability, and real policy reform.

"The players are standing together as a team. More importantly they are standing up for those who need them the most. We applaud the strength, unity and leadership of the players. The Broncos will fully and unconditionally support them. Today is about reflection and identifying ways to affect meaningful change. The strongest statement we can make is by taking action. It will take all of us."

The Broncos are expected to practice Friday morning.

>>Video below: Broncos insider Mike Klis discusses the team's decision to not practice on Thursday in protest.

Broncos podcast: Klis' Mike Drop

Denver Broncos headlines, game previews and interviews with our 9NEWS insider Mike Klis.

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