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Mark Murphy, other Packers officials meet with players on social justice issues

Jim Owczarski
Packers News

GREEN BAY – Mark Murphy made a statement in June, not just with words but with his checkbook, when the Green Bay Packers President/CEO made a personal donation of $250,000 to match the organization’s pledge to Wisconsin causes to affect social justice. 

“Without taking away from this most important focus on the Black Lives Matter movement, we can also take this time to dissect our own role in discrimination toward people with differences in gender, gender identity, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, and physical and mental abilities,” Murphy said in a release issued at the time by the team. “I will continue to educate myself on these issues and spend more time putting words into practice.”

Murphy followed through on that Thursday, as he, executive vice president/director of football operations Russ Ball and general manager Brian Gutekunst participated in a team meeting where players once again discussed social justice issues, and how to create action off the conversations.

“We asked the guys in the front office to be a part of the meeting and we spoke our minds to them and told them what we wanted as a football team,” Packers right tackle Billy Turner said Friday. “Whether that is calling out the people who sponsor the Green Bay Packers, whether it is letting their voice be heard to the media, whether that is just them being there and being in those meetings and truly hearing what we are saying. We would love for all 32 NFL owners to get out there and make meaningful statements, to speak from the heart about what they truly believe. Whether they believe the hype or they don’t believe the hype, at least we know where they stand. So, that was part of our conversation.

Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy is shown Saturday, August 15, 2020 during the team's first practice at training camp in Green Bay, Wis.

“We spoke with Russ Ball, Brian Gutekunst, Mark Murphy, they were all there present in the meeting and that was something that was meaningful to us as a football team because we needed them to know where we stand and we also wanted to know where they stand, so when we do move forward as a team, they are part of it and they can be there backing us and helping us every step of the way.”

It is not a small thing to have Murphy involved, either – it could help create actual movement within the National Football League even though he is not the owner of the Packers. He is an influential figure, whether it be with his work on the competition committee or as a member of the league’s Management Council. He serves on three other committees and once was a part of ownership’s bargaining committee prior to the 2011 signing of a new collective bargaining agreement.

Murphy was not immediately available for comment.

Hours after the Packers met as an organization and canceled Thursday’s practice, the Baltimore Ravens released a comprehensive statement calling on Senator Mitch McConnell to bring the George Floyd Policing Act of 2020 up for a vote and for the arrest of police officers responsible for the shootings of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and Jacob Blake in Kenosha, among other specific calls to action. The statement was issued by the team, but in no way would it have been without the tacit approval of majority owner Steve Bisciotti. 

“Ownership, that’s the big money and they have a lot of influence within the states,” said Adrian Amos, a Baltimore native. “It’s big when those teams come out and speak when those top officials that – that’s their title, owners, so they own a lot of stock in their particular states and they have that influence, so when they say they want to get something done, they can get something done, because they’ve had that power.”

For the Packers players, the Milwaukee Bucks further proved that they could have a greater influence than previously imagined. When the Bucks refused to play their playoff game against Orlando on Wednesday night, they didn’t leave the locker room until they got Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes on the phone.

“You know it shows that it’s possible,” Turner said. “And, there’s a handful of guys on this team who can just go on social media and maybe go into their contacts on their phone and people up to make things like that happen, but that’s not something that is the case for every individual on this football team. Same with the Milwaukee Bucks and Brewers. Every professional sports team, there’s guys on that team who don’t have that power. So, the fact that they were able to do that and the fact that we have guys like (Mark) Murphy on our side who does have a contact list and whose name does carry weight in this state and in this country, that helps us. Knowing that he’s on our side and he’s able to help us contact these people to bring them in so we can have that conversation, that means a lot. So, that’s where the owners come into play again.

“It’s not just on us as players. We’re sitting down having these conversations and we’re voicing our opinion to Mark Murphy and to these leaders and these owners, we want them to be able to get into their phones and go into their contact list to call these people and make these moves forward for us. We can’t just reach out to people who make these laws and so on and so forth. We need help doing that. Going on social media and calling people out is only going to do so much.”

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, Turner and Christian Kirksey have also spoken about keeping their optimism and holding onto hope for real change via these conversations. At least within the league, there has been change since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first demonstrated during the national anthem to bring awareness to police brutality four years ago. While Kaepernick remains out of the game, commissioner Roger Goodell said in June players would be encouraged to peacefully protest if they chose to.

“I feel the players, we must encourage each other to keep standing up for what we believe,” Kirksey said. “We’re more powerful than what we may think. Obviously, I think we took tremendous strides from four years ago to get our voices heard, to understand what ‘Kaep’ was doing, and keep spelling out the message. You can look on ESPN SportsCenter when you turn on the TV and see guys taking a stand. I think that’s what we’re going to continue to do to get the message across that people are hurting out there. At the end of the day, we’re not just athletes but we’re individuals as well. I just encourage everybody to keep standing up for what they believe in. Us, as athletes, have the responsibility to stand up for people.”

And for the Packers, they feel stronger with Murphy and the organization’s top leadership standing behind them.

“My hope for the future comes from America’s young people, including our players,” Murphy said in that June statement. “I had the opportunity to visit with some of our players and hear about their experiences. They are emotional and passionate about this issue. They want to make a difference by using their platform to bring attention to racism, police brutality, oppression and injustice, and they want to affect change.”

Tackle depth bolstered

Free-agent acquisition Rick Wagner returned to practice for the first time since injuring his left arm Aug. 20, and the right tackle was sporting an elbow brace as he was worked back in during the fully-padded session.

“It was nice definitely to have him back out there,” head coach Matt LaFleur said. “He’s an experienced vet that’s played a lot of ball and we’re excited to get him back in the fold. Certainly, with the limited reps he’s had up to this point in our team situations, it was nice to see him back out there.”

The offensive line group also welcomed back second-year tackle Yosh Nijman off the physically unable to perform list, though he did not participate in team activities. Nijman is a 6-foot, 7-inch, 314-pounder who was an undrafted free agent out of Virginia Tech. He spent most of 2019 on the practice squad before being called up to the active roster on Nov. 26. His season was ended early however when injured an elbow in practice less than a month later.

“He’s got a lot of talent, he’s just got to put it together mentally,” LaFleur said. “We’ll continue to work with him, we’re excited to see him come back to action.”

Time dwindling for roster calls

After Friday’s return to practice, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst has eight days to tighten up his evaluation of the 80 men on the roster and choose his best 53. The unscheduled cancellation of Thursday’s practice to discuss social-justice concerns took away one day of field work and only heightening the importance of what is to come over the next week.

“We’re so fluid right now in terms of our schedule,” LaFleur said. “We’ll go back and look at the tape and just try to figure out exactly what we need to see from certain young guys. Obviously there’s some real competition, especially at the back end of that roster, to make the 53. I feel like we got a pretty good group that loves to go out there and compete, and I feel like they’re getting better each and every time they go out there. They’ve got to maximize those opportunities, some of these guys haven’t had a ton of ops. So that when we get in those move the ball situations, they definitely have to showcase their skill and their talent."