By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Green Bay organization tackles racism while dealing with COVID-19 challenge
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The concept of being “together, apart” became the new normal this spring.
It began with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in late February. That’s when the pandemic forced most everyone to adjust to staying safer at home, wearing masks, hand sanitizing and social distancing.
Two weeks ago, George Floyd’s murder at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers upped the ante.
“Together, apart” has since become “together, together.”
At a time when the Milwaukee Bucks would be marching toward an NBA title, and the Packers toward defense of their NFC North title, they are marching instead to protest racial injustice and social inequality.
In the past, the world of sports has held a prominent place in helping our country heal. The horror of 9/11 comes to mind. This time it’s different. The sports world isn’t merely trying to provide an escape from harsh realities. It is trying to effect meaningful change throughout our country.
It seems the nation’s “toy department” has grown a conscience. It isn’t merely enough to entertain fans, but also to enlighten them. It is a noble cause worthy of pursuit until the dream of a racist-free society is reality.
Simultaneously, sports leagues, teams and athletes are diligently working toward a safe return to courses, courts, rinks and fields.
The Packers’ offseason officially ends June 26.
A cynic might suggest that it never really began.
That’s not true, of course, because the NFL has navigated free agency, the draft and a “virtual” offseason under trying circumstances.
Through it all the Packers have been at the forefront.
Aside from those times when Green Bay won championships, I can’t imagine being prouder of the Packers than I am right now.
Team president Mark Murphy and his wife, Laurie, set the tone by putting their money where their hearts are by condemning racism and donating the resources to assist in its eradication.
Coach Matt LaFleur made it clear racism won’t be tolerated, and that his players can feel free to protest without recrimination. That includes taking a knee during the National Anthem if they are so inclined. Furthermore, LaFleur and a handful of prominent players produced a video, “Enough is enough,” that they shared via Twitter last week.
Its statement is powerful.
Based on the Packers’ messaging this is only the beginning.
Aaron Rodgers, in an Instagram post last week, reminded everyone that the Packers stood together against racial injustice several years ago. He seems more determined than ever to wipe out racism.
“A few years ago we were criticized for locking arms in solidarity before the game,” he wrote. “It has NEVER been about an anthem or a flag. Not then. Not now. Listen with an open heart, let’s educate ourselves, and then turn word and thought into action.”
Meantime, LaFleur and his team are dealing with the challenge of building on last season’s success during a pandemic.
It is the ultimate art of adjustment.
The Packers aren’t the only team working through a “virtual” offseason, but based on reports it seems everyone from Aaron Rodgers to Aaron Jones believes Green Bay has made excellent use of the time.
“Zoom” used to describe how Jones would slice through defenses. Now, it’s the app preferred by NFL teams to communicate via social media.
Rodgers believes this offseason has been put to good use.
“This has been a great opportunity to go back and really fine-tune everything, go through everything last year that was good, what didn’t work, what we want to add to it, what we want to take out,” he told ESPN radio. “I think Matt and Nathaniel (Hackett) have done a really good job of going through those and keeping me in the loop about conversations. We’ve had a number of conversations about these installs, and I feel really good about where we’re at.”
Rodgers noted that the Packers – despite difficult circumstances – are in a great position to improve. They have an “outside-the-box” thinking head coach. They have strong leaders on both sides of the football.
They also have a talented, veteran quarterback who has been through just about everything, including a “virtual” offseason in 2011.
Rodgers’ experience, coupled with LaFleur’s fresh viewpoint, just might come together to create a dynamic force. The COVID-19 imposed slowdown has given LaFleur time to polish his offense.
A year ago, LaFleur said he was excited at the prospect of having an offseason to self-scout for the first time in years.
“The virtual stuff has been at a slower pace, and I think it really helps everybody because there’s a lot of emphasis on the details,” Rodgers said. “For a second-year offense now, for the coaches to be able to go back through during their offseason and really take a deep dive into the film and the scheme and the playbook, I think has been really helpful.
“Matt and I and Hackett and (passing game coordinator) Luke Getsy have been meeting a lot about those installs and really fine-tuning them and making sure they’re all in order by the time they get to the squad.”
The Packers haven’t been together, as a team, since the NFC Championship loss at San Francisco. When they do reunite it will be with a freshly polished playbook, a handful of new players and a redoubled effort to be winners both on and off the field.
That sounds like an ambitious and productive offseason.
And the season is still 90 days off.