Condoleezza Rice, once a child deemed unworthy of sitting on Santa’s knee, now sits in owners’ box at Broncos games


A 5-year-old girl went to visit Santa Claus but found bigotry wearing a white beard and red suit. The year was 1959. The place was Alabama. The young girl was Condoleezza Rice.

“I’ll tell you an interesting story,” Rice said this past Sunday as we stood in a hallway near the locker rooms of Empower Field at Mile High prior to the Denver Broncos’ home game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

This is a story of how hope triumphs over hate.

“I’m 5 years old and going to see Santa Claus. Santa Claus is taking all the little white kids and putting them on his knee while holding the black kids at arm’s length.”

Her parents watched this scene unfold in disbelief and anger, with John Wesley Rice telling his wife, Angelena, that if the bigot treated Condoleezza the same way, he might rip the stuffing out of jolly old St. Nick.

“I remember thinking many years later: ‘What a strange way to experience racism. From Santa Claus,’ ” said Rice, who discovered as a child prejudice permeated the Deep South, from the schoolyard to the local diner. “Racism did infuse everything in life. But it also didn’t stop you from succeeding. It made you very tough. You learned to deal with tough circumstances.”

A racist goof in a Santa suit could’ve been the Grinch that stole a little girl’s faith that America was a good place. Rice, however, was taught from a young age to never blink in the face of prejudice. As a daughter of a former semi-pro offensive lineman, rising after a hard knock is embedded in her DNA.

“The essence of America — that which really unites us — is not ethnicity or nationality or religion,” Rice said during a speech at the Republican National Convention in 2012. “It is an idea, and what an idea it is: That you can come from humble circumstances and do great things. That it doesn’t matter where you came from, but where you are going.”

At the turn of the 21st century, Rice went to the White House and made history as the first female to serve as U.S. national security advisor. In 2005, President George W. Bush entrusted her with the responsibilities as Secretary of State, fourth in line of succession to the presidency.

More than six decades after being regarded as unworthy of sitting on Santa’s lap in the segregated South that was the Birmingham of her childhood, Rice took a seat on Sunday in the owners’ box of an NFL stadium in the Mile High City as a shareholder with a small stake in the Broncos.

“My dad was a football coach when I was born. I was supposed to be his all-American linebacker. When he got a girl, he decided to teach her about the sport instead,” Rice said in August when members of the new ownership group were introduced after Rob Walton’s record $4.65 billion purchase of the Broncos. “Even though my father has gone to the Lord, I have to think that today he’s thinking: ‘She finally got a really important job.’”


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