Commentary

Shame overshadows the orange and blue

Condoleezza Rice’s inclusion in the new Denver Broncos ownership group is a stain on the team’s legacy

August 18, 2022 4:00 am

A bronco sculpture is displayed on the south side of Empower Field at Mile High, home of the Denver Broncos, in Denver, on Oct. 15, 2021. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

Shame, if not the threat of criminal prosecution, should follow Condoleezza Rice everywhere she shows her face.

Yet amnesia and apathy were on her side in recent weeks as she was feted in Denver as one of the new owners of the Denver Broncos. Rice bears more responsibility for mass misery and death than most people alive in the world, yet, with few exceptions, the thrust of almost all the coverage of the professional football team’s new ownership group presented with exquisite omission a sanitized account of “her unique experience and extraordinary judgment.”

This is journalistic dereliction of the first degree.

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And she’s not the only member of the ownership group deserving of scorn. The head of the group is Rob Walton, son of Walmart founder Sam Walton and former chairman of the company’s board of directors. Walton is a quintessential corporate bully who represents the extreme anti-worker, anti-community ethos that has produced struggling downtowns and spectacular inequality throughout the country.

But there they were, mugging for the cameras in Denver like they were league champions, while every fan of the orange and blue who knew the truth turned red in the cheeks.

Rice was former President George W. Bush’s national security adviser on Sept. 11, 2001, and she thereafter played a central role in the administration’s catastrophic response to the terrorist attack. The country’s duty-bound mission to hold the attackers responsible morphed into a deceitful war of aggression against an unrelated state. Rice helped persuade Americans that the U.S. should invade Iraq, most notoriously when, in falsely insisting Saddam Hussein was close to producing nuclear weapons, she said, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

Rob Walton might not be an accomplice to war crimes, but he is a villain of a different sort.

Rice falsely claimed Iraq represented “a gathering threat against the United States,” and in response to U.N. Security Council resistance to an invasion of Iraq, she said, “Any time you have a situation in which you are calling for more time rather than calling for Iraq to immediately comply (with disarmament resolutions) it plays into the hands (of Hussein).” She compared Security Council members’ caution to appeasement of Nazis in the 1930s.

This was all part of the Bush administration’s lies about the justification for attacking Iraq. American forces never found weapons of mass destruction in the country, and no link between Hussein and the 9/11 al-Qaida terrorists ever existed. But the war resulted in the documented death of roughly 200,000 Iraqi civilians (the actual total is likely much higher), as well as more than 4,000 U.S. troops, and America’s international credibility was squandered.

At least as horrifying is Rice’s endorsement of torture — she was among the first high-level Bush officials to sign off on the administration’s illegal and reprehensible torture program. The program ceased after it was exposed, and in America’s modern history it remains an unparalleled state crime, yet Rice continued to defend it years later.

Rob Walton might not be an accomplice to war crimes, but he is a villain of a different sort. He was chairman of the Walmart board of directors from 1992 to 2015. Under his leadership Walmart came to symbolize disdain for the American worker. The big-box discounter offered poverty wages, poor health insurance, and zero tolerance for unions.

Walmart was reputed to have an anti-union SWAT team that deployed on a corporate jet to stores where labor organizing was thought to be taking place, and the company was known to conduct worker surveillance. When a meat department in a Texas Walmart unionized, the company not only shut the department down but also closed meat departments at almost 200 other stores.

Meanwhile Walton and his family became obscenely rich — he has an estimated net worth of about $60 billion.

“Walmart is the largest employer in America. It is owned by the Walton family, the wealthiest family in America, worth about $200 billion, and by the way their wealth has gone up by $50 billion during the pandemic,” U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said last year. “You got one of the Waltons, a gentleman named Rob Walton, who owns tens and tens of millions of dollars in antique cars … and yet this company starts its workers off at $11 an hour, a starvation wage.”

Under Rob Walton, Walmart also came to exemplify the decimation of the American Main Street. When a new Walmart opened in town, few local grocery and other mom-and-pop retail shops could compete, and they were forced to close. 

Walton’s son-in-law, Greg Penner, succeeded him as Walmart chairman. Penner is also a member of the Broncos’ ownership group, as is his wife, Carrie Walton Penner, who is Rob’s daughter. The group agreed to buy the football team for $4.65 billion — spare change by Walton standards.

A sports franchise is supposed to be a common source of pride for a diverse community. Its triumphs can be shared and celebrated equally among everyone who roots for the team, no matter their background. Professional sports teams are supposed to reinforce community cohesion and culture.

But the misdeeds of the ownership group’s members overshadow the aspirations of Broncos’ players, coaches and fans, and their presence is a stain on the team’s legacy.

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