Is Condoleezza Rice's NFL Ownership Stake To Be Celebrated?

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Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice depart Minority Leader McConnell’s office, at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, November 3, 2021.
Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice depart Minority Leader McConnell’s office, at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, November 3, 2021.

If all goes smoothly, the NFL’s Denver Broncos will have not one, but two Black women in the owners’ suite. But the latest addition may not be one that everyone can as easily get behind.

The impending new ownership group of the Broncos announced today that Condoleezza Rice, who was the first Black woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State from 2005 through January 2009 during the George W. Bush administration, has been added to the group as an equity partner. She joins Mellody Hobson, CEO of Ariel Investments, one of the largest Black-owned money management firms in the country, and chair of the board for Starbucks. Hobson’s participation was unveiled last month when it was announced that the group led by Walmart heir Rob Walton and his son and daughter-in-law Greg and Carrie Walton Penner was the winning bidder for the team.

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The percentage of the Broncos that either Rice or Hobson will own and how much that required them to put up hasn’t been made public. But whatever their stakes cost, they’re worth a pretty penny. The Walton-Penner group are paying $4.6 billion for the Broncos, a record for not only the NFL but for any team in any sport in North America.

But back to Rice. Owning a piece of the NFL team in Denver is likely a dream come true for her, given her professed love of football, the fact that she partly grew up in the area and that she’s said in the past that being NFL commissioner would be her dream job. Since the NFL owners are the commish’s bosses, she’s probably just as happy with the slight change in job title.

Although her addition to the Broncos’ ownership comes at a time when the NFL’s racial issues are on full display, it might be a bit harder for some Black fans and observers to celebrate her addition than it is for Hobson’s. That’s probably owed the fact that very little is known about Hobson’s politics; her public profile is centered around her work as an executive, philanthropist and popular pundit on personal finance, and the fact that she’s married to filmmaker George Lucas.

Rice, on the other hand, lived the most public parts of her life in the inner circle of an administration that was deeply unpopular among Black voters. The George W. Bush administration’s approval ratings among Black votes averaged in the low double digits during his second term, when Rice was at the height of her political power and public profile, according to Gallup Inc.

That alone isn’t a treatise on how all Black folks feel about her, but it is worth noting that while Black folks’ opinions of the late Gen. Colin Powell, who under Bush preceded Rice as the first Black secretary of state, Rice’s image didn’t fare as well.

In a 2007 essay in The Guardian, filmmaker Candace Allen, who was the first Black member of the Director’s Guild of America, put it this way:

But I take her complicity in what I consider the most disastrous US administration in modern times very personally. I want to take her by the shoulders and shake, if not throttle her. But very much more, I want to know, why? Why the Republicans and these Republicans? Why the rigidity? Why the hubris? Why so little compassion for those less blessed than yourself? So intelligent, so capable ... how could you get it so wrong?

Those words were written before the Trump years, during which presumably Allen and anyone else who felt similarly re-evaluated that whole “most disastrous administration” bit. But what hasn’t been re-evaluated is the deep distrust with which many Black folks remember Rice’s time in the public eye and her routine distancing of her politics and her accomplishments from the community from which she ascended.

In fairness to her, its hard to imagine she’ll have any worse record on race than the current crew of NFL owners, which has never had a Condi Rice or Mellody Hobson among them.