Denver7 Exclusive: Justin Simmons says 'we couldn't focus today'

When Melvin Gordon spoke, it galvanized Broncos, canceled practice
Posted at 10:36 AM, Aug 27, 2020

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As the NBA postponed games in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, the Broncos met for two hours Thursday morning.

The issue was simple: Should they practice? Coach Vic Fangio gave the players the floor to speak and Melvin Gordon stepped forward. He was raised in Kenosha, Wisc., where Blake was shot seven times and left partially paralyzed. Gordon's family lives there and owns a restaurant bearing their name.

His raw pain and emotion made the decision for the players.

"Mel was the first one to grab the mic. Within the first two words he said, he just broke down. You could just feel the air in the room go, evaporate. It was a surreal type feeling. It felt like one of my family members up there talking," Broncos All-Pro safety Justin Simmons told Denver7 in an exclusive interview.

"That's when I think guys realized we can't wait until it happens to one of us because it almost did. We have an amazing platform as players as the most prestigious organizations to make a change."

The Broncos joined several teams -- the Colts, Packers, Jets, Bears, Titans, Cardinals and Washington -- who elected not to work out.

The NFL teams are following the lead of the NBA, which postponed all playoff games Wednesday and Thursday after the Milwaukee Bucks elected not to play. NBA players met Thursday, and according to ESPN, the players have decided to resume their season after sending a strong, unified message.

Wednesday, the WNBA followed in the NBA's footsteps and several major league baseball and MLS soccer games were postponed as well, including the Colorado Rapids' contest.

The Broncos were one of the most visible teams regarding the Black Lives Matter movement in June, organizing a peaceful protest through downtown Denver, including more than 60 players and members of the organization, Fangio among them.

Simmons told Denver7 that the plan moving forward is to get Governor Polis and Mayor Hancock "to the table" to create impactful change. After the team meeting Thursday morning, which featured CEO Joe Ellis in attendance, players were free to leave. Instead, they chose to stay and divided into small groups to continue the dialogue.

"We were hitting some things that are going to affect immediate change, talking about police reform, education reform. Honestly, holding our organization accountable from top down," Simmons said.

"If guys are speaking out we want to make sure we are held accountable. But, we brought up Demaryius Thomas and Brandon Marshall taking a knee, and we felt like the organization didn't have their back when they were down there protesting. They just felt alone. They were losing sponsorships, and obviously the fans had a lot to say about it. And it just felt like they were alone. We talk about how our voices are important, but how important are they if they we are not backed by those who have are backs when we are wearing their name across our chests?"

Simmons brought up how Broncos players backed Senate Bill 217 in June, which changed a standard, requiring that officers face an imminent threat before they use deadly force.

"That bill passed and is barely getting talked about. And that bill should be a staple in every single state in the U.S. because it demands change and demands accountability from our police precincts," Simmons said, before pausing, and adding, "I just felt so terrible when we were in there (meeting) today, especially when Mel was talking."

The Broncos released a lengthy statement, supporting the players decision not to practice:

“Following a team meeting this morning to discuss the horrific events in Kenosha, Wis., and the many social injustice around the country, the Denver Broncos have canceled all football activities Today. As an organization, we are outraged and disgusted with the shooting of Jacob Blake. Our hearts go out to his children, 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 Denver 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.”