Rooney: KD Nixon answers the call in time of strife for CU Buffs

Football secondary as ‘Superstar’ receiver leads CU athletes’ cries for change

University of Colorado football receiver K.D. Nixon holds Black Lives Matter signs during a “Black Lives Matter” protest and march on Friday, June 5, 2020 in Boulder. The march was in response to the recent killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota by a white police officer. (Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer)

KD Nixon almost was out of here.

Had he kept his name in the pool for the 2020 NFL draft, instead of following his change of heart to return to Colorado, Nixon might not have been in Boulder for this moment. If the college experience is about growth — in the classrooms, on the athletic fields, simply as human beings — then Nixon doesn’t ever have to catch another pass to exemplify this growth for each and every future Buff.

Nixon was meant to be in this place, at this moment. And he is fully embracing a difficult yet inspiring mantle of leadership to affect the sort of societal change that, hopefully, will make the world a safer place for all current and future CU Buffs of color.

It was a stirring scene on Friday, as the student-athlete-led Buffs March paraded through Boulder fighting for justice and racial equality. It was an exercise that has been playing out across our nation, as a citizenry sick and tired of police violence against black people — which reached a tipping point in Minneapolis nearly two weeks ago when George Floyd was killed by a police officer now charged with second degree murder — has protested in coast-to-coast droves not seen since the 1960s.

To single out Nixon is to perhaps overlook the hundreds of CU student-athletes, coaches, former athletes, administrators, and even fans that marched Friday. All let their voices be heard. But it is Nixon that has led the way, from his impassioned appearance this past week with the Pac-12 Network to his megaphone-propelled sermon Friday during the culmination of the march in Boulder’s Central Park.

Nixon made it clear this is about spreading love to everybody, even taking a moment to embrace one of the Boulder Police officers on hand. Nixon contemplated leaving CU after last season, and on Friday he talked about how he never truly had a home while growing up but has one now with the CU community.

Without Nixon, maybe someone would have stepped up into that leadership role anyway during these unsettling times. Yet it is Nixon’s intelligence, passion, and thoughtfulness that make him the right man at the right time in Boulder. He simply is following what he believes is the divine intervention that set him on this path.

“Me and (Laviska Shenault) wanted to change the culture here,” Nixon said. “That’s why we left Texas — to come here and say, ‘Hey, it’s hard everywhere else.’ But let’s show them it can be done. There can be a change. It could be different. Being able to come back, it’s a blessing. I graduated. Nobody in my family has seen a college. I broke a generational curse.

“This is a purpose. I’m on assignment. I’m Christ’s ambassador. I’m channeling God. I’m just laying his message. KD Nixon isn’t doing any of this. Superstar Nixon is living through God. Christ’s ambassador is giving his message through us so we can live a positive, peaceful life. And that’s why everything is happening at the right time.”

If the modern era of Colorado football begins with Bill McCartney’s arrival in 1982 and the slow build into national prominence, then that modern history, particularly the first decade or so, featured a relationship with local authorities that was checkered at best. Lance Carl was there as a player in the mid-1980s and is here today as one of CU’s associate athletic directors. Watching the student-athletes of this generation take full advantage of the much more powerful platforms at their disposal has been uniquely inspiring.

“It is gratifying. Going back to Bill McCartney’s days and when he first came here in ’82, there’s been trying times, whether it’s been in Boulder or Denver, for a lot of our student-athletes,” Carl said. “Change is going to come from the generation of young people that we have on campus right now. They’re going to be our future leaders. They’re going to be administrators like myself. They’re going to be in positions of power to create change. It’s vitally important that we as a society recognize that this generation has a powerful voice. I think it’s due time that we listen to them.”

Listen, empathize, embrace acceptance. If even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, whose league froze out former quarterback Colin Kaepernick for the exact sort of peaceful protest now unfolding throughout the country, can admit he was wrong and needs to be better, there is room for improvement in all of us.

As for Nixon, CU’s standout receiver says his name no longer is KD. It’s now Superstar Nixon. He will get no debate from this corner, nor should he from anyone else. Nixon has earned that moniker, and his superstar status has absolutely nothing to do with anything he has accomplished in football.