LaFleur Rises to Occasion

Bill Huber

GREEN BAY, Wis. – On the day he was introduced as the Green Bay Packers’ head coach, Matt LaFleur spoke nervously in front of reporters. That day, there were more than a few fans concerned that if the coach couldn’t win the press conference, how would he be able to win over an NFL locker room filled with alpha males.

There was reason for LaFleur to be nervous on Friday, too, as he spoke to reporters via a Zoom call. The call came about two weeks after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer and with the country embroiled in racial tension, protests and riots. A day earlier, a dozen Packers players and LaFleur were part of a nearly 2-minute video voicing the need for change.

While he had been talking with his team for several days, LaFleur rose to the occasion with his first public comments. If he was nervous, it didn’t show as he delivered a series of powerful lines.

Here are some of them:

On football taking a back seat to current events during the team’s online meetings:

“It’s pretty easy in my mind. There’s things that are bigger than football, and this is one of those things. I was fortunate to be in a lot of those meetings, and there’s a lot of powerful words and stories that our players told, and I think this is such a great opportunity for all of us – coaches, players, everybody in society – to listen and to listen to our black community and just some of the struggles that they’ve dealt with for years and years and years. What a great opportunity to be really aware of what’s going on and really a great opportunity to make significant changes.”

On what’s changed since some players’ high-profile social-justice stances from a few years ago:

“I just think as a society right now, and I know I’m speaking for myself, certainly I’m much more aware of some of the issues that exist in this world. Looking at what happened a few years ago, it’s unfortunate how we handled some of that. We’ve got to move forward and we’ve got to do things the right way and really listen. It’s going to come back to that – listen, come up with solutions – and the only way we’re going to do that is collectively as an entire country. Black, white, Hispanic, it really doesn’t matter. We’ve all got to fight these injustices together.”

On what he’s learned from conversations with his team:

There’s a lot of guys who are really hurting right now and they’ve been hurting for years. Unfortunately, we, as a society, haven’t been listening. I’m just trying to think for myself and things I could do to help and I do think it starts with listening, but then we’re going to have to start coming up with an action plan. I’ve had a couple meetings today with some of our coaches, certainly have had many conversations with our players. I think we’re all kind of brainstorming right now and making sure we take the necessary steps to see some positive change.”

On the tough decisions he’s had with the team:

“, we’re going to look at everything we do. I told this to the team, I don’t know what it’s like to be a black man living in America, and I don’t try to pretend to know, but what I do try to do is listen, show empathy. I told the guys I’m all in for whatever needs to be done to end racism, to end social injustice, to end the police brutality, because I do believe that we’re all equals. The one thing I love about the game of football, about sports, is you get a lot of people from different backgrounds, different religions, different beliefs and different experiences, and we all come together, and we come together with one common goal. It’s just a microcosm of the world and how we need to become one. We need to become united in order to make this place as good of a place as it can possibly be.”

Will LaFleur be the right coach to bring another title to Titletown? Who knows, but for this tumultuous time in history, LaFleur seems to be the right man for this historic time.

“I think that any time you’re faced with adversity or some challenges, you’ve got to look at the positives,” he said. “I think there’s been a lot of great conversations that I know myself and my staff and our players have had with each other. I think the more you get to know each other, the more connected you can become, the more united you can become, I am hopeful and excited for the future. I think that there’s a chance to make significant change in this country. I just want to be a part of that process.”

Register today or log in to access this premium article.