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The Denver Broncos on Monday announced the addition of former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the team’s new ownership group.

Rice is the second Black woman to join the group, which is primarily made up of members of the Walton and Penner families, who amassed their fortunes largely through their stakes in Walmart. The partnership already includes Mellody Hobson, co-chief executive of Ariel Investments and board chair of Starbucks Corp.

The group reached a tentative agreement in June to buy the Broncos for a record US$4.65-billion, more than twice the price of the previous record for an NFL franchise. The purchase is expected to be approved before the start of the 2022 regular season.

It is unclear what percentage of the team each individual group member will own.

Rice, 67, has long been mentioned for a variety of NFL roles. In 2002, when she was president George W. Bush’s national security adviser, she expressed interest in eventually taking over as NFL commissioner. Rice, a life-long Cleveland Browns fan, was rumoured to be a target for the team’s vacant head-coach job in 2018.

Currently the director of the Hoover Institution, Rice became one of the first women members admitted to Augusta National Golf Club in 2012. She was a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee from its inception in 2013 until 2016, and last year she took an ownership stake in the WNBA.

She spent part of her childhood in Denver and earned a bachelor’s and a doctoral degree at the University of Denver.

“Her unique experience and extraordinary judgment will be a great benefit to our group and the Broncos organization,” Rob Walton, speaking on behalf of the group, said in a statement.

Her addition comes amid a push by the NFL to increase the diversity of the league’s highest ranks as it faces a lawsuit from Brian Flores, an Afro Latino former head coach who accused the league and its teams of discriminating against him and other Black head-coach candidates.

The league has denied the claim.

The NFL has instituted a number of measures to increase diversity in senior positions, including launching in March a six-member diversity advisory committee to review its policies, and broadening the Rooney Rule, a leaguewide guideline to increase the number of interviews for diverse candidates for head coaches and senior positions such as general manager and team president.

Jason Wright became the first Black team president when he was hired by the Washington Commanders in 2020. Last week, the Las Vegas Raiders hired Sandra Douglass Morgan as team president, the first Black woman to hold that post.

But increasing diversity among the league’s owners, who are overwhelmingly white, has been more difficult because teams change hands infrequently and because their high prices limit the number of potential buyers. In February, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he hoped the Broncos’ new ownership would include a person of colour. At their annual meeting in March, the league’s owners said that prospective ownership groups would be looked at favourably if they included “diverse individuals who would have a significant equity stake in and involvement with the club, including serving as the controlling owner of the club.”

Hobson and Rice are the first two Black women to own part of a team, although no Black men or women have ever been the principal owners of a team. There are only two people of colour who have majority stakes in NFL teams – Shahid Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who is Pakistani American, and Kim Pegula, the Korean American co-owner of the Buffalo Bills.

Several other NFL teams are principally owned by women, but in all those instances, their ownership stakes were acquired via inheritance or by marriage.

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