As the Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre mend their relationship, they're creating a teachable moment out of a difficult process. Though football is just a game — even in Wisconsin — the story of betrayal, forgiveness and reconciliation is universal.
Forgiveness, the virtue of showing mercy in the face of unfair treatment, doesn't always come with reconciliation, said Robert Enright, a University of Wisconsin-Madison educational psychology professor. Reconciling requires mutual trust to negotiate, which the team and Favre demonstrated last week when the quarterback was welcomed back home after his ugly exit from the Packers.
"If there's forgiving on both sides and receiving forgiveness on both sides and then the reconciliation, you have something very special there," Enright said. "If there's reconciliation, people will see this as the team taking the high road, and even Brett Favre accepting it, but of course they might say he just simply wants to be in the limelight."
The team announced it will honor the quarterback's storied career by inducting him into the Packers Hall of Fame and retiring his No. 4 jersey next year. Fans loved Favre, and he is often credited with reviving the franchise in the 1990s, but his relationship with the Packer nation turned toxic in 2008 when he moved in and out of retirement, criticized the Packers and eventually played for the rival Minnesota Vikings.
Current players, management and Favre all say they're ready for him to come home. Their actions pave the way for forgiveness on the community level, said Enright, who has studied forgiveness for 30 years.
"Some within the community are going to be enraged, others are going to say, 'Wonderful.' And it's just going to have to be that way, because when you forgive on the community level, it's more messy because you don't reach consensus," Enright said. "But when you have the leader — in this case it's the team proclaiming it — it's making this acceptance on both sides, by Favre and by the fan base community, much more likely."
Forgiving the hurt is extremely difficult, especially when it's coming from someone so revered, said the Rev. Dennis Episcopo, senior pastor at Appleton Alliance Church in Grand Chute and a National Football League chaplain.
"That makes it greater pain, a deeper hurt. That's the way love is. The people that will love you the most, can also hurt you the most," Episcopo said.
Revenge not productive
The fans saw Favre as their saving grace, a sentiment summed up in the so-called Packers Prayer, a green and gold parody of The Lord's Prayer:
"Our Favre, who art in Lambeau, Hallowed be thine arm. Thy bowl will come, it will be won . . . For thine is the MVP, the best of the NFC, and the glory of the cheeseheads, now and forever. Go get 'em. Amen."
Coincidentally, a guide for working through that hurt is embedded about halfway through the actual prayer, said the Rev. Mike Novotny, lead pastor of The Core church in Appleton.
"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," The Lord's Prayer says.mbedded about halfway through the actual prayer, said the Rev. Mike Novotny, lead pastor of The Core church in Appleton.
The verse can be applied to all relationships. Novotny said every marital conflict case he handles boils down to someone forgetting how much they've been forgiven.
"The way that we treat other people is infinitely connected with the way that God treats us," Novotny said. "Unless you're cool with God booing you for all the junk that you did, there should be a little bit of humility saying we kind of like the idea of forgiveness. It works out for us the fact that God is ridiculously forgiving for people who've betrayed him."
But revenge can't be present, because forgiveness won't happen until the one who was hurt no longer requires the other to pay for the pain they've caused. Episcopo calls it "spiritual surgery" and it's sacrificial, pointing to Jesus dying on the cross for the world's sins is the ultimate example of this.
"You have to detach the hurt from the person so you can forgive them," Episcopo said. "In essence they're saying, 'We're going to take the hurt a little bit.'"
The passing of time helps, but forgiveness often needs to be repeated.
"You can forgive somebody and lay it aside and then you see them two weeks later and all the emotions rushing up again and you want to tear their head off. What do you have to do? You have to do it again and again and again," Episcopo said.
Episcopo pointed to the New Testament. In Matthew 18:21-23, Peter asks Jesus if seven times is enough times to forgive someone who has wronged him. Jesus tells him the number of times needed is more like 70 times seven.
Packers fan Eugene "Mean Gene" Greening, of Menasha, said he will never be OK with Favre's criticism of the team. But he has set it aside and forgiven him. Greening believes Favre's motives for coming back are sincere.
"The words are the worst. That was worse than anything," Greening said. "I will separate it, but I have that much respect and loyalty to the Packers management and the Green Bay Packers and when you say things like that. It cuts me that bad.
"I'm doing what I should do. I should hold no grudges. It's a human thing that happened and those were the things you have to put aside, but they're kind of always there."
The 69-year-old season ticket holder has loved the team since he was teenager. He's a super fan who wears Packers gear 365 days a year, but Greening is also a Favre fan. He said it was heartbreaking to witness the tarnishing of the quarterback's legacy and the rift it caused among fans.
That's why I loved him so much. I get just as excited as a fan.""I like the way he played instantly. I was excited about him," Greening said. "His excitement, his emotion, it just caught on. He acted like a kid. In my heart I felt it. I just always felt everything that Brett Favre did.
Greening plans to put on his Favre jersey and watch the quarterback's Hall of Fame induction and the retirement of No. 4.
"I'm so happy that we've come to this point, this has to be. He deserves his number retired. ... There should be no one booing him," Greening said. "I'm choked up about it right now. My love for him will never go away. It's beyond words. You either feel it in your heart or you don't."
— Holly Meyer: 920-993-1000, ext. 426, or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @HollyAMeyer
Faith and values
Reporter Holly Meyer explores trends in the Fox Valley's faith community. If you have a story idea, contact her at 920-993-1000, ext. 426, or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @HollyAMeyer.
• Tearfully retired from the Packers in March 2008, only to backtrack after the team had moved on with Aaron Rodgers — a decision that divided fans. He eventually asked for his release from the Packers, who instead traded him to the New York Jets in August of that year.
• Announced his retirement again following his one season with the Jets. He was released but then changed his mind in August 2009 and signed with the Minnesota Vikings, a bitter Packers rival.
• Led the Vikings to a pair of victories over the Packers during the 2009 season, including a 38-26 triumph at Lambeau Field in which he was booed loudly in his return to Green Bay.
• Was investigated by the NFL in 2010 for his alleged involvement in a sexting scandal involving a former Jets employee. The NFL fined him $50,000 for "a failure to cooperate with the investigation in a forthcoming manner." However, the probe couldn't conclude he had violated the NFL's personal conduct policy.
• Reportedly told the Vikings he wouldn't return in August 2010 but denied those reports and two weeks later rejoined Minnesota for what would be his final NFL season. The Packers won both regular-season meetings on their way to winning their fourth Super Bowl title.
Compiled by Brett Christopherson/Post-Crescent Media
• Named NFL MVP in three consecutive seasons (1995-97).
• One of the cornerstones in reviving a downtrodden franchise, led the Packers to 11 playoff berths and 13 winning seasons during his 16 seasons in Green Bay.
• Guided the Packers to four NFC Championship appearances, two Super Bowl appearances and one Super Bowl title — the franchise's first NFL championship since the Vince Lombardi era.
• Capped a prolific career by setting numerous NFL marks, including passing yards (71,838), completions (6,300) and touchdown passes (508).
• A legendary ironman, made 297 consecutive regular-season starts, an NFL record for a quarterback.
Compiled by Brett Christopherson/Post-Crescent Media