John Bowlen, Jr., the son of Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, and an employee of the team’s marketing department, was arrested Wednesday night on domestic violence charges after allegedly threatening to kill someone and throwing his girlfriend into a wall during a whippet and alcohol fueled rage.
My father was a police officer for fifteen years. He taught me about our constitution’s more important rule: the presumption of innocence. If you are accused of a crime in this country, you are innocent, until the state can prove otherwise. It’s the hallmark of our justice system, the thing that makes our country work.
The press has somehow developed the power to override that rule. I hate nothing more than media sensationalism, especially when it comes to criminal cases. It’s not the job of the media to convict the accused. It’s the job of a judge, or a jury. In the case of Mr. Bowlen, I’m not going to make a judgment about whether or not he’s guilty of the crime he’s been accused of. It’s not my place.
However, this afternoon the Glendale, CO, police department released the Bowlen 911 call recorded on Wednesday night. In my time working with politicians and lawyers, and more recently as a reporter, I’ve heard a great many 911 calls. I doubt if I can recall a tape as embarrassing, damning, or incriminating as Bowlen’s, especially when I thought about where he comes from.
John’s father Pat, the owner of the Broncos for more than three decades, and by far the greatest owner in the history of Colorado professional sports, has been the standard for personal and professional excellence in athletics for more than thirty years. Sadly, Pat Bowlen is today waging an unwinnable war against Alzheimer’s disease. The condition has stripped him of much of his cognitive function, and many of the memories of his past glory.
Listening to the 911 tape from Wednesday night made me ask a simple question. It’s one that I hope John will ask himself in the coming days. If Pat Bowlen had never been stricken with his cruel and indiscriminate disease, what would he think of his son’s actions? In particular, what would he think of the brash arrogance and flat out stupidity John Bowlen, Jr. displays on this 911 tape?
The tape begins with Bowlen’s girlfriend calling 911. Her scream is nearly its first sound, and the call goes dead. Like any good operator would do, this operator quickly redials the number. Instead of his girlfriend, John Bowlen himself is the voice the operator hears on the other end of the line. The first thing out of Bowlen’s mouth is, “This is the owner of the Denver Broncos.”
No, John. You’re not the owner of the Denver Broncos. The Broncos currently are the property of the “Pat Bowlen Trust.” They list your father Pat as their owner, and will continue to do so, until someone in the family can show they’re capable of the enormous task of being the President and/or Owner of the team. Those were your father’s wishes. Since he stepped down last year, many considered you to be the frontrunner for that job. Now, I doubt if you’ll even be allowed in the building again.
As the tape continues, John Bowlen tells the operator, “Nothing is wrong at all,” and begins to drop names so fast it’s hard to keep up with them. “You can call the Sargent of the police Mickey Horton, you can call Dave Abrams,” Bowlen begs with the operator, “You can call anyone you want. Please don’t do anything right now. Nothing is wrong. I swear on my life.”
When I was a kid, I liked to tell tall tales to keep me out of trouble. If my dad asked me whether I’d eaten the last cookie in the jar, I’d inevitably tell him, “No, dad! I swear!” He’d tell me, “Jake, do you want to know how I can tell when a suspect I’m interrogating is lying to me? When he says, ‘I swear’.” Listening to the tape, it’s clear something is indeed very wrong in the Bowlen residence.
The tape goes on, and it becomes more and more evident that Bowlen is heavily intoxicated. He continues trying to convince the operator that “everything is fine here.” He says, “There is nothing wrong. She (his girlfriend) is leaving…she is just trying to ruin my life.” In one of the tape’s many poignant moments, the operator then asks Bowlen why his girlfriend would have called 911 if everything was as hunky dory as he says it was. Just like any good narcissist, Bowlen deflects the question toward the victim, “Because she’s crazy!” Bowlen says.
The situation devolves as the tape goes on, and Bowlen can be heard muttering, “I swear on my Dad’s life.” Meanwhile, his girlfriend, clearly still in distress, begins screaming in the background. Again, Bowlen says it’s “Because she’s crazy…There’s nothing going on here. Nothing to be said.”
Then, as the operator continues trying to keep Bowlen on the line, the most mind-baffling moment on the tape occurs. Bowlen says, “As the blood of the city, I’m telling you right now, nothing is wrong.” That may be the most absurd, entitled, arrogant statement ever uttered in the history of man. If John Bowlen, Jr. is the “Blood of the City,” I’m the “Plasma of KFC.” Just because you’re well known in a place, doesn’t mean you can claim ownership of it.
The tape concludes with Bowlen lying to the operator, and showing off his morose ego one last time, “I’m sober. I’m a man of my word. I’m a friend of the city, a friend of the Mayor. I’ve been going through a lot because I’m taking care of my dad. She’s leaving now. Nothing is wrong. I love you guys.” Bowlen then hangs up the phone.
When it comes to this case, my immediate concern isn’t whether Bowlen is guilty of domestic violence. He’ll have his day in court, and the justice system will get to make that judgment. My concerns revolve around the future of the Denver Broncos.
How can someone who comes from such a remarkably humble man become such a doofus? If John Bowlen, Jr. represents the future of Denver Broncos ownership, this team is in serious trouble.
The tape is a jaw-dropping example of what happens when children born to privilege forget that they’re not above the law. John Bowlen is not a kid. He’s nearly 30 years old. Yet, listening to the tape, his childish arrogance would lead you to believe he’s in his late teens.
The NFL will not allow the Broncos to be held in a trust in perpetuity. The team will have to name an owner soon. Pat Bowlen said numerous times that he wanted the Broncos to remain in his family. However, how can fans trust this second generation of Bowlens when they’ve shown such arrogance toward the law and detachment from the fans?
If Pat Bowlen were the man he was ten years ago, he’d have zero tolerance for his son’s actions, and the team would ultimately be in a safer place. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. As “Mr. B” continues to slip away from the fans, they’re left with nothing but questions and serious, serious concerns.