DENVER — With 75,000 seats sitting empty at Empower Field at Mile High, the loudest statements were voiced on helmets, cleats, wardrobes, on the giant videoboard, across the south stands end zone.

All of the Broncos, players and staff, stood arm in arm during the playing of “Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing,” known as the Black national anthem. From the press box, I counted 18 Broncos who then took a knee for the U.S. national anthem.

In the name of unity, we now have two national anthems. For now, only one American flag flew alongside Bucky, the towering Bronco above the south stands, against the night's sky.

Since only 500 friends and family were allowed in for "Monday Night Football," Broncos players implored ESPN viewers to “stop hate,” honor "Jacob Blake" and "George Floyd." The most popular pregame wear said “Black Lives Matter” (first letter in caps), further proof the NFL stands in lockstep with the divisive political organization — not an obvious statement of truth.

The Titans beat the Broncos 16-14 on a 25-yard field goal by Scott Gostkowski with 17 seconds left — another final-minute mystery from Vic Fangio, who elected to take two timeouts home.

"Well, it was twofold there," Fangio said after. 

He said the Broncos laid a bet against Gostkowski, who had missed four kicks, and elected to not use a timeout when Titans rusher Derrick Henry was shoved out-of-bounds.

During a long, coronavirus-impacted NFL season, time will tell if the Broncos are contenders or pretenders in the AFC West and beyond. They didn't complete Week 1 before losing Pro Bowlers Von Miller (presumably for the season), Courtland Sutton (for Monday night) and Phillip Lindsay (to a toe injury for the second half). 

The Broncos again blew a game in the final minute. They lost three last season after leading with 30 seconds left in regulation. Their lack of depth also resurfaced. At one point in the first half, they had at cornerback a rookie (Michael Ojemudia), another rookie (Essang Bassey) and a veteran who missed the 2019 season due to injury (Bryce Callahan).

They must get and stay healthy to have a shot.

The Broncos were loudest in protests directed at social injustice, police brutality and racism.

“People might say, ‘Well, the awareness has been brought.’ People see it now, but I don’t technically agree that everyone understands what’s going on in the world,” said Sutton, who spoke on protests in a media session last week. "I think people know and they see it, but they don't fully comprehend what’s going on.

"When you still have people who ask the question or make the statement of, ‘Well, that person shouldn’t have resisted (arrest),’ or ‘that person should have just followed commands and done what they were asked to do.’ When you hear people who still have that opinion and make those statements, we’re not close yet.”

Among the Broncos regulars who kneeled during the national anthem were Justin Simmons, Bradley Chubb, Shelby Harris, Melvin Gordon III, Jeudy and Kareem Jackson, a co-organizer of the team’s protest march through downtown Denver in June. It was back then the franchise went all-in on the protests that will define the NFL’s 2020 season.

The team’s policy on anthem protests, courtesy John Elway: “Everybody can do as they wish when it comes to the anthem. The only thing that we ask is that everybody respect everybody for the rights of what they want to do. If somebody wants to stand, we’ll respect the fact that they want to stand. If somebody wants to kneel, we will all respect the rights of what that person chooses to do for the anthem.”

The Broncos are the most community-conscious franchise I’ve experienced. So what tangible steps are they taking to improve a country they suggest is broken? Last week the team launched “Inspire Change,” a social justice program that includes a weekly “Power Hour” to focus on player-led causes, a $100,000 donation from Elway that will focus on local police reform projects and a diversity and inclusion committee focused inside and outside of the organization.

But if unity is the NFL's and Broncos’ mission, adopting a divisive organization like Black Lives Matter is not the way. I was there as Black Lives Matter supporters spray painted “All Cops Are Bastards” and “Good Cops Are Dead Cops” across our state capitol building. Denver's an anxious, suddenly dangerous city. Killings and shootings were up 50 percent, arrests were down 45 percent, according to Colorado Politics. By inciting a war on cops, the organization is hurting the vulnerable neighborhoods they claim to protect.

Anyone with law enforcement officers in their lives, friends or family, grows a knot in their stomach at such hateful rhetoric.

Prepare for a Broncos season heavy on protests.

(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at paul.klee@gazette.com or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)

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