Trouble in Titletown, Part II: a look back
Continuing the discussion from yesterday of the case alleged sexual assault by Packers cornerback Brandon Underwood, as the case is being handed over to the District Attorney today; I thought I’d take a look back. The Underwood allegations bring back memories of a decade ago when another Packers’ sixth-round draft choice was found in a compromising position in Wisconsin, this time at a neighbor’s house at a post-prom party for teenagers.
In the pre-dawn hours of early April 9, 2000, one year into my time with the Packers, I received a phone call from general manager Ron Wolf. In the haze of slumber, I heard something about a problem with one of our players in Milwaukee.
Ron is a man of few, yet purposeful words. He said: “Meet Parins (our Security Director Jerry Parins), go to Milwaukee, and check out what’s going on.” I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and asked “Going on with what?” He said a player was being held for sexual assault in Waukesha (a Milwaukee suburb) and told me to get on the road. As he started to hang up the phone, I begged for more information “What player?” He said “Chmura” and hung up.
I met Jerry Parins – a gem of a guy – and we took the two-hour drive not knowing what we’d find there. We found Mark in his orange jumpsuit. He was processed and released on $5,000 bail and scheduled to return on May 15. We then drove Chmura from the jail to his home, with Mark ducking down in the back seat while photographers gathered. Mark did not say a word on the ride but I did notice that he had been crying.
Once inside his home, I huddled with Mark’s friend, marketing agent and advisor, John Drana, to try and figure out the facts. While it was good to have face-to-face communication, I didn’t expect Drana to say much on behalf of Mark, and he did not. Similarly, I wanted to say as little as possible at that time on behalf of the organization, as anything I would have said could have been fodder for use later. It was a brief and cordial meeting, but Mark knew of our concern and disappointment with his judgment. Beyond that, conversations were guarded from both sides.
I made sure Mark was retaining counsel, as this would be a long process. He was hiring Gerald Boyle, the well-known Milwaukee lawyer who had defended serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Chmura would later go on to work for Boyle as a paralegal in his firm.
In that situation, there was no handbook on what to do. I wanted to get an understanding of what happened to report back to the team. Ron wanted Mark to know that we were there and concerned, both for he and his family and for the negative light he had brought to the team.
Blink of an eye
What struck me driving back that day was that how, in the blink of an eye, Mark Chmura’s career, reputation, image and family life changed, all on a public stage. That is how fast it can happen, which should be a cautionary tale for all players, including Underwood.
Chmura was one of the fan favorite at the Packers at the time. Although known for his “boys will be boys” fraternizing with buddies Brett Favre and center Frank Winters – dubbed the Three Amigos -- he was a one of the top tight ends in the league, a true find for Wolf in the sixth round out of Boston College.
Now there was a sexual assault charge against him, based on what did or didn’t happen with a seventeen year-old girl who had worked for he and his wife as a babysitter in a bathroom at a post-prom party at his neighbor’s house. It was “the story” in that area for many months.
The incident created a schism between Mark and his one-time best friend Favre, who wanted to put his carousing life in the rear view mirror. It caused Mark to spend more time with his lawyers than anyone else. And it damaged his reputation and image in the conservative Wisconsin community.
Packers decision to move on
Mark would never play for the Packers again. It is hard to say that the reason was entirely for his actions that night, as at the same time, Mark was dealing with a neck issue that would become problematic for continuing his career (I remember the game against the Lions where he injured his C5 and C6 discs and had numbness on the flight home, a true concern). The combination of the negative publicity surrounding Mark and his disc issues was a lethal mixture to his continued employment with the team.
A week after the incident, we selected tight end Bubba Franks in the first round and the die were cast for Mark. Six weeks later, on June 5, 2000, Mark was released after eight seasons with the team.
Chmura was acquitted of charges of sexual assault and child enticement on February 3, 2001. I remember him shaking and crying uncontrollably, releasing all the emotion of ten months of uncertainty. Still, the stain on his image lasted and he was a pariah in Packer circles for some time.
Alas, however, time seems to heal all wounds. In a little over a month, on July 17, Mark will be inducted in the Packer Hall of Fame. Good for him.
Now Brandon Underwood may face a battle off the field. He is certainly not the name nor the resume of Mark Chmura, but the stakes are high in Titletown. Always have been, always will be.
Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.