In recent years, professional sports have had a series of historic moments, both on and off the field. During the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, Erin Jackson became the first Black woman to win a speed skating medal and the first Black woman to win a gold medal for an individual event during the Winter Games. Naomi Osaka. And behind the scenes in 2022, Shelly Cayette became the first Black woman to hold the executive vice president and commercial officer within a team in the NBA.
History was made in the National Football League in August 2022 when a new ownership group of six individuals was approved as owners of the Denver Broncos. Two of the owners of the team are none other than Condoleezza Rice and Mellody Hobson, making them the first two Black women to own part of a team in the NFL in the league’s history.
What is the Denver Broncos’ ownership group?
On August 9, 2022, NFL owners voted to approve the purchase of the Denver Broncos by the Walton-Penner group. The group, led by Walmart heir Rob Walton, agreed to pay the Bowlen family, who are the current owners, $4.65 billion at the beginning of the summer for the team.
Walton will be the team’s controlling owner, while his daughter Carrie Walton-Penner and son-in-law Greg Penner will handle the typical day-to-day ownership. In addition, three minority owners were also added to the group, including Hobson, Rice, and Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton.
Before the Walton-Penner group received the unanimous vote to acquire ownership of the team, the team was run by a trust with the team president and CEO Joe Ellis at the helm. The trust took over after the late lawyer Pat Bowlen, who purchased the team for $70 million in 1984, died in 2019 after battling Alzheimer’s. However, Bowlen’s children could not agree upon who would become the owner among the seven of them, so the trust put the team up for sale in early 2022.
What is the historical significance?
Rice and Hobson have now become the first two Black women to own part of an NFL team in the league’s century-long history. Yet still, since the inception of the NFL in 1920, there have been no Black men or women have been the primary owner of a team in the league. Even today, only two BIPOC individuals have a majority stake in a team – Jacksonville Jaguars’ principal owner Shahid Khan, who is Pakistani American, and Buffalo Bills’ co-owner Kim Pegula is Korean American.
In the league’s century-long history, only a handful of teams have had a woman as their primary owner. In addition to Pegula in NFL history, other female owners include Virginia Halas of the Chicago Bears, Susan “Dee” Haslam from the Cleveland Browns, Gayle Benson of the New Orleans Saints, Denise DeBartolo York of the San Francisco 49ers, Amy Adam Strunk of the Tennessee Titans, Sheila Ford Hamp of the Detroit Lions, and Carol Davis of the Baltimore Raiders. In recent decades, the Miami Dolphins made a splash in 2009 when they brought on a string of BIPOC minority owners into the franchise, including Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and Jennifer Lopez.
Still, the moment’s significance has not been lost on players in the league, including the Denver Broncos quarterback, Russell Wilson.
“To be able to talk to her, what a tremendous accomplishment and what a gift to be able to do what she’s going to be able to do,” Wilson told The Athletic in June 2022. “To be the first Black woman, right, to be able to do this, I mean, this is a big deal. I mean, this is history. And I think that maybe has gone over people’s heads a little bit.”
Justin Simmons, a safety for the team, called the moment “amazing” in an interview, adding, “With what’s been going on the past few years — everyone knows it’s been forever — with what’s been going on in our world, to see some diversity and to see strong, Black women in the ownership group and lead that role — what an inspiration.”
“I think for so many people, there are little girls out here whose dad plays on the team, and they can look up [the] ownership of the Broncos and can see someone who looks just like them,” he added. “I think that’s really great, but the biggest thing on top of that is they didn’t do that just to do that. These are really powerful, qualified individuals that deserve this, earned this, and worked for this. That, to me, is inspiring.”
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Who is Condoleezza Rice?
Rice held several political positions throughout her career, including the 19th United States National Security Advisor from 2001 to 2005 and the 66th United States Secretary of State from 2005 to 2009. In those positions, she became the first woman to serve as National Security Advisor and the first Black woman to serve as Secretary of State.
After her four-year tenure as Secretary of State, Rice became a political science professor at Stanford University in March 2009. She had an academic fellowship and served as provost from 1993 to 1999. The following year, Rice became a faculty member of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a director of the school’s Global Center for Business and the Economy in September 2010. She also became the Thomas, and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at Hoover Institution public policy think tank and research institution, where she would eventually succeed Thomas W. Gilligan as its director in September 2020.
Rice has a special connection to Colorado and Denver specifically. She moved to Denver when she was just six-years-old and moved back again when she was 12 and attended Saint Mary’s Academy. For her higher education, Rice went to the University of Denver twice – once for her undergraduate degree and once for her Ph.D.
Who is Mellody Hobson?
Hobson is an American businesswoman once listed as #94 on Forbes’ World’s 100 Most Powerful Women and Time Magazine’s 2015 Time 100 List. She is currently the president and co-CEO of Ariel Investments and the chairwoman of Starbucks Corporation. The latter role made her the first Black woman to become a chairperson of an S&P 500 company. Before her current position, she was the chairwoman of DreamWorks Animation but stepped down after she negotiated the company’s acquisition by NBCUniversal in August 2016. The following year, she became the first Black woman to head the Economic Club of Chicago.
In addition to her roles at various companies, Hobson also dedicates her time to serving on the board of several organizations, including the Chicago Public Education Fund and the Sundance Institute. She was formerly on the board for the Estée Lauder Companies Inc.
Even Hobson herself called the moment “humbling” and “historical,” explaining, “As someone once wrote, if you are going to exceed your wildest expectations, your wildest dreams, you have to start with some pretty wild dreams. And this is certainly in that category.”