Kiszla: In America’s 2020, Kareem Jackson knows a real hero can no longer just stick to sports — and neither can we

Broncos Country is united in orange. But like any NFL team in rural cities, when the game is over, the dangerous gap remains between what it means to be black and white in America.

As Broncos’ safety, Kareem Jackson is paid $ 11 million to play football. But after the last photo of the fourth quarter, when he takes off the orange uniform and leaves the Denver locker room, neither fame nor fortune can protect Jackson from prejudice so bad they can kill.

“When I take that uniform off, I’m just an ordinary citizen, just another ordinary African American,” Jackson said Tuesday.

“We don’t have to go out and be in public and only have to look over our shoulders because of our race. That’s definitely one of the things that should stop.”

With the United States on fire after the brutal murder of George Floyd, with President Donald Trump holding a Bible in one hand and a can of gasoline in the other, we can no longer stick to sports. By 2020, perhaps the only bigger threat than the coronavirus is a pandemic of intolerance that is tearing us apart.

We can’t stick to sports because there can’t be Rockies games under the lights or Monday night football in Denver unless a curfew can be safely lifted. The same ugly American traditions of racism that allowed a bad cop to kill Floyd have damaging consequences in every aspect of society, including the games we play.

The NFL, who has banned quarterback Colin Kaepernick for trying peacefully to warn us of police brutality, is hiding behind his shield as he engages in systemic discrimination.

Thearon W. Henderson, Getty Images

San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick (7) and Eric Reid (35) kneel in protest during the national anthem before playing the Los Angeles Rams in their NFL game at Levi’s Stadium on September 12, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.

From the fighting Bowling kids to staff chief John Elway to head coach Vic Fangio, all the major positions of power in the Broncos organization are held by the privilege of being born white.

“I don’t see racism in the NFL,” said Fangio. “I don’t see any discrimination in the NFL.”

Well, bless Uncle Vic’s heart that’s in the right place. But maybe Fangio should buy a vowel and a clue.

In a league where there are only four minority head coaches and the former MVP Cam Newton is having trouble finding a job, you can’t tell me that race has nothing to do with football unless the face is staring at you in the mirror in the morning as white as the teeth you brush.

Yes, Broncos Country stands and cheers for linebacker Von Miller, backsliding Phillip Lindsay and Jackson, black stars of the team. While African-American players wear orange for three hours on Sunday, we all sit together as long as they keep their mouths shut and play.

Watching the video of a police officer cruelly sniffing Floyd’s life, “it was horrifying,” Jackson said. It was especially unnerving because he felt the sting of racial profiling by police officers while a member of the Houston Texans.

“As soon as they walk to the car and they see me, they immediately ask,” Who is the car? “Jackson recalls.” And it’s an insult to me. Just right away, why are you asking that question? … Why do you think I can’t afford this car because I’m an African American driving a nice car? “

Denver Broncos Strong Safety Kareem Jackson ...

Joe Amon, The Denver Post

Denver Bronco’s strong safety Kareem Jackson (22) takes to the field, a 70-meter awkward recovery before a touchdown to make the score 13-0 in the first quarter, while the Broncos face the Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston on December 8, 2019.

The NFL is as deaf as the 73-year-old White House bully who does not realize racial or economic inequalities cannot be quelled by rubber bullets fired at peaceful protesters and violent looters. This is an evil tone of deafness, which poses an existential threat to the spirit of a large country where the rich and poor, left and right, black and white often stubbornly refuse to listen, may have less respect for the views of those who would otherwise see.

The Broncos are part of the problem. While the Bowling kids bicker as a spoiled boy about the fate of a $ 3 billion company their late father built, unemployed Coloradans worry that the corona virus could kill any job-seeking hope. So Beth and Brittany let mud wrestling take control of the franchise. We need more food than football.

These difficult times require more than a renewed dedication to listen carefully to our neighbors’ grievances. Action must be taken to reunite a torn and bleeding land with raw emotion. Here we pray that more of us can now see when Kaepernick took a knee, it was never about the flag. But now there is an opportunity for proud Americans, regardless of skin color, to stand together and eventually swear allegiance to that flag in the sincere name of true freedom and true justice for all.

“Surely more hopeful now,” said Jackson. “But it’s a shame it’s under these circumstances because Kap started it years ago, and this is something we’ve been going through for hundreds of years.”

He plans to run a social justice march with teammates and fans of different ethnic backgrounds through the streets of Denver. Leaders on top of the Broncos organization are trying to do the right thing. But would Elway be willing to march next to Jackson at the risk of pissing off a president he supports?

Aside from a pick-six interception that can thrill the home crowd, here’s applause for Jackson for not sticking to sports. What is in a good heart must now be heard more than ever.

“At the age of 32, I probably don’t see any change,” said Jackson, who selflessly dreams of a better America for future generations.

Jackson understands that there is a long way ahead, with every small step forward requiring courage, kindness and confidence.

Stick to sports? Not really.

In 2020, a sports hero defines an entirely new ball game.