Another week, another story about an NFL player (allegedly) engaging in shady off-field activities.
This time it’s former Philadelphia Eagles and now-current Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson and his supposed affiliation with a gang. Jackson denies such activity, but the fact the accusation has even been made stains his reputation.
This is just the most recent in a string of stories over the past several seasons involving NFL players and criminal activities. Aaron Hernandez, currently awaiting trial on miser charges, is probably the most severe but there have been so many other instances this entire article would just be a list if all were to be mentioned.
Drunk driving, drugs, domestic violence, assault and the aforementioned murder are just some of the charges levied against NFL players the past several seasons. The league has an image problem and commissioner Roger Goodell has his hands full trying to fix it.
This is why NFL fans, regardless of what team colors they wear on Sundays, should be thankful for a team like the Green Bay Packers.
Since general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy arrived in 2005 and 2006, respectively, the Packers have been able to avoid the off field issues so many other teams have had to deal with over and over again.
The one potential exception to this for the Packers, the past drug arrests of defensive lineman Johnny Jolly, was turned into a positive this past year when Jolly was reinstated by the NFL and was named the team’s Ed Block Courage Award recipient for how he has turned his life around and became a locker room leader (per Aaron Rodgers himself) in the process.
How has Green Bay been fortunate to avoid the distractions a good chunk of the rest of the league often encounters?
Well, for one, character sometimes has to trump talent in the eyes of Thompson and McCarthy and it should. This is why the Packers have passed on players such as Randy Moss and Terrell Owens in the past, despite lobbying by fans and a certain former MVP quarterback.
They might be uber-talented on the football field, but if they cause distractions off the field or disharmony in the locker room, what’s the point? McCarthy and Thompson value a united locker room above all else and they won’t introduce any element that risks upsetting this.
The team of course did sign a hotheaded Charles Woodson in 2006 but he was far from the diva player that Owens and Moss were at the time. Woodson eventually went on to become the strongest and most vocal locker room leader the Packers had had since Reggie White and Green Bay won a Super Bowl.
This all goes back to the “Packer people” phrase McCarthy and Thompson mentioned upon their hiring. It was mocked by some fans initially, but thanks to many off-field incidents involving NFL players since then, it has now been embraced by the fanbase and is often used as a gauge when looking at potential additions to the team whether it be via free agency or the draft.
Another reason why the Packers have been so successful in avoiding off-field issues is that they have high character veterans in the locker room. Thanks to Thompson’s method of building the team primarily through the draft, there is a big influx of young players every year. As these are still-growing young men, temptation of some bad influences off the field often comes to call.
Thankfully, Green Bay has a core group of players that have been brought up in the Packers system since they were rookies and they have the credibility to mentor these young players and have themselves taken seriously by the youngsters.
Players like Rodgers, Josh Sitton, Jordy Nelson, Clay Matthews and now Jolly (if he is brought back following a neck injury) are just some of the vested veterans in the Packers locker room. Oh, an being some of the best players in the league doesn’t hurt the credibility either.
When it comes to selecting the young players in the draft, it’s obvious Thompson does nearly as an exhaustive look at a prospect’s character as he does their athletic ability. Young players will mature but Thompson again does what to introduce an unstable element into one of the NFL’s most harmonious locker rooms, even if it is a rookie and even perhaps a late-round pick as well.
Then there is the city of Green Bay itself. It’s not the booming metropolis most NFL teams are based in and therefore does not have the nightlife and temptations those cities have. The people of Green Bay are also very blue collar and since fans own the team, it’s clear that those fans expect their players to be model citizens. If not, they’re likely to be booed out of town.
In a world where the NFL is often making headlines for all the wrong reasons, it’s refreshing to see a team like the Packers believe character still matters. They’re not the only team that still believes that, but the Packers refuse to sell their soul even if a potential player with off field issues could help the team.
That’s a refreshing lesson in this day and age and something so many companies, not just professional sports teams, could learn from.
There is still hope in this world and that hope wears green and yellow.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke