Sports

Lewis Hamilton Joins Condoleezza Rice on Broncos Ownership Diversity Train

Lewis Hamilton as seen on the Netflix series Formula 1: Drive to Survive and Condoleezza Rice during a recent interview.
Lewis Hamilton as seen on the Netflix series Formula 1: Drive to Survive and Condoleezza Rice during a recent interview. Netflix via YouTube/Stanford via YouTube
In June, the group led by Walmart heir Rob Walton and Greg Penner, Walmart's chairman and Walton's son-in-law, won the high-stakes auction for the Denver Broncos by agreeing to pony up $4.65 billion to purchase the franchise. And in advance of an upcoming vote by National Football League owners to approve the sale, Walton and Penner continue to demonstrate that they're taking the NFL's mandate for diversity among the new ownership collective seriously.

At the time of the deal's original announcement, the group revealed the participation of Mellody Hobson, a Black woman who currently serves as co-CEO of Ariel Investments and the board chair for Starbucks (she's also the wife of Star Wars creator George Lucas). The following month, Walton and Penner brought aboard Condoleezza Rice, the first Black woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State. And yesterday, the duo divulged a pact with Lewis Hamilton, an enormously popular race-car driver and de facto star of the Netflix series Formula 1: Drive to Survive.

Although Rice and Hamilton appeal to very different constituencies, their accomplishments are so impressive that they should help Walton and Penner avoid any charges of tokenism.

The Walton-Penner group's July 11 statement about Rice notes her connection to Denver:
We're pleased to welcome former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to our ownership group. A highly respected public servant, accomplished academic and corporate leader, Secretary Rice is well known as a passionate and knowledgeable football fan who has worked to make the sport stronger and better. She is the daughter of a football coach and served on the inaugural College Football Playoff Committee. She moved to Denver with her family when she was 12 years old and went on to attend the University of Denver for both college and graduate school. Her unique experience and extraordinary judgment will be a great benefit to our group and the Broncos organization.
What's not mentioned is that Rice is a diehard fan of the Cleveland Browns. (No doubt Broncos quarterback-turned-team-executive John Elway broke her heart numerous times in the 1980s, including when the iconic series of plays known as "The Drive" prevented the Browns from reaching the Super Bowl in 1987.)

Back in 2018, Browns general manager John Dorsey was rumored to be interested in interviewing Rice for the outfit's head-coach position — speculation that he quickly shot down. Afterward, though, CNN's Roxanne Jones argued that Rice should be given a chance to take on a different position: NFL commissioner, a gig held then and now by Roger Goodell, who's closely associated with the call for diversity among Broncos owners. Jones noted that in 2002, Rice's then-boss, President George W. Bush, publicly said her dream job would have been taking over as commissioner from Goodell's predecessor, Paul Tagliabue.

On Facebook, Rice wrote the following about her new Broncos role: "It is an honor to be part of this ownership group. Football has been an integral part of my life since the moment it was introduced to me, and I am thrilled to be a part of the Broncos organization today. I spent much of my younger years in Denver, so to be able to combine my love of the game with my love for this great city and team is an adventure of a lifetime and a great opportunity."

As for Hamilton, he's not only British, but he's been knighted, and the Walton-Penner group's August 2 introductory statement makes use of his honorific:
We're delighted to welcome Seven-Time Formula One World Champion Sir Lewis Hamilton to our ownership group. He is a champion competitor who knows what it takes to lead a winning team and a fierce advocate for global equality, including in his own sport. With over 100 race wins, Lewis is considered the most successful F1 driver of all time. His resilient spirit and standard of excellence will be an asset to the ownership group and the Broncos organization.
Given his country of origin, Hamilton grew up with the sort of football referred to by most U.S. residents as soccer. An Arsenal fan, he's said that if he hadn't succeeded in the world of Formula One, he would have loved to have played either the European style of football or cricket. Along with such luminaries as tennis all-timer Serena Williams, he's also part of the ownership group put together by erstwhile Broncos bidder Todd Boehly to purchase Chelsea F.C.

By linking up with Walton and Penner, Hamilton is reversing a trend in which American celebrities have been buying soccer franchises. "Fame Ball," an article by journalist Craig Coyne in the current issue of Vanity Fair, features an illustration of stars who've sunk some of their cash into such teams — among them Williams, Natalie Portman and LeBron James, as well as Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, whose purchase of Wrexham AFC is the subject of a forthcoming FX series, Welcome to Wrexham.

Not everyone in the Vanity Fair piece is from these United States, though. Hamilton is depicted, too.

Another positive aspect of Hamilton's Broncos association is his outspokenness against racism in society generally, including his own sport, as evidenced by the following clip:
After Hamilton's Broncos ties were revealed, he weighed in on Twitter, demonstrating his mastery of social media by way of both a reference to quarterback Russell Wilson's oft-repeated hashtag "Let's Ride" and the use of a cute dog photo.
Even before the winning bidders' new additions, virtually every expert with access to a microphone was predicting that the purchase of the Broncos will be okayed on August 9, when the other NFL owners are scheduled to vote on the proposition. Now, however, approval seems to have reached the point of metaphysical certitude — and both Rice and Hamilton stand to benefit handsomely by their willingness to up the diversity of the Walton-Penner group.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts