With the news this weekend from Wisconsin about an alleged sexual assault by a Packer player, I started getting some flashbacks about my times with the Packers and handling of some messy situations.
Packer Nation was searching Saturday night for the identity of a mystery player, as even I was getting many calls and messages wondering who was the player under investigation for sexual assault of two women. According to a report by Greg Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, sources say police are investigating Packers cornerback Brandon Underwood for an alleged incident. Underwood, a 2009 sixth-round pick that appeared in eleven games last season, has not been charged as of this writing.
Like all teams, when situations like these arise, the less said the better. The more a team or a player says, the more that is open to interpretation. As per operating procedure, the Packers have put out the standard catchall comment that I drafted years ago: “We are aware of the reported incident and still are gathering facts.” That usually kept the media at bay for a while.
I took the role at the team of working through these situations threefold: (1) communicating with the agent and attorney for the player about what really happened, often a one-sided view of things, (2) working with team security and law enforcement on police reports and witness statements, and (3) working through the NFL offices of security and the Management Council towards an eventual reaction from the league in the form of fine or further discipline.
These cases are never easy but they are inevitable in every organization: we are dealing with young men with the combustible mix of celebrity, money and disposable time, especially at this languid time of year.
Packer players in different world
Although I have not spent much time around other organizations, my sense is the recipe for trouble is enhanced with Packer players. Although I often heard it said that Green Bay was the perfect place for troubled players, as they could not get into trouble in the bucolic lifestyle of Northeastern Wisconsin, which is not the case.
Although there certainly was not the nightlife found in other places, the access to NFL players may not be greater anywhere in the league than in and around Green Bay. Unlike bigger cities, where players can be sheltered in different parts of the city and suburbs, Packer players are quite visible and always seen around town. I would often see several of our players out in their down time, whether at the (one) movie theater or other local establishments.
And, of course, Packer players of every level take on a celebrity beyond that of players in other markets. Even practice squad players Green Bay are known and recognized with a low level of celebrity status. Thus, Packer players take on an added sense of self-importance. I dealt with this many times in contract negotiations, where the player’s sense of worth was distorted by the treatment he received in our little slice of heaven.
Trouble in Titletown
And now it surfaces on the behavior side. Having dealt with multiple cases of law enforcement in my years there, with a list including Ahman Green, Gilbert Brown, Tyrone Williams, Antonio Freeman, Najeh Davenport (he did what?), Cletidus Hunt, Nick Barnett, and many more, I would always try to find the tricky balance between making sure the players were not treated more harshly due to their celebrity and not trying to exert influence from the organization.
Tomorrow I’ll go into more detail about one of the specific situations I dealt with that the Underwood case evokes strong memories of.
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