GREEN BAY, Wis. – Matt LaFleur coaches a melting pot of players all pulling together as one team.
If only the melting pot of the United States could do the same.
“What’s so great about our sport and the essence of team is you’ve got a bunch of people from different backgrounds coming together in pursuit of a common goal,” LaFleur said on Thursday. “And if our society could emulate that, or could see how we operate as a team, our world would be a much better place.”
Making the world a better place is the lofty goal of the Packers, teams across the NFL and the sporting world as a whole. One day after the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks boycotted a playoff game against Orlando following the shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man, by Kenosha police, the Packers were one of several teams to not practice on Thursday. For the players, it wasn’t a protest. Rather, it was a way to talk and find ideas that could bring positive change.
The idea to scrap practice, even with the final roster countdown nine days away and the regular-season opener 17 days away, was LaFleur’s.
“Not one guy said that they didn’t want to practice today,” LaFleur said. “That didn’t even come up. We were having some really long conversations. When you feel that emotion in the room, it’s hard to focus on football. It is emotionally draining for everybody in that room, so I made the decision that, hey, we’re not going to go today. I just didn’t think it was right.”
The Packers, who had a scheduled off-day from practice on Wednesday, were supposed to practice at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. Instead, on Wednesday night, LaFleur talked to some of his players and coaches. With that, LaFleur brought his leadership committee together on Thursday. That evolved into a full team meeting.
“There’s a lot of raw emotion that comes out in these meetings with players that come from different backgrounds, that come from different experiences,” LaFleur said. “They really pour their heart out there and you feel for these guys.”
LaFleur could have pushed practice back to Thursday afternoon. Instead, the players were given the choice to watch a team screening of the documentary “13th,” which is an examination of the U.S. prison system and its role in racial inequality.
LaFleur equated the team’s plan to creating a winning football game plan. In football, game-plan creation starts on Monday and evolves throughout the week until it is revealed on Sunday. It’s the same for his team’s battle against racism. “You’ve got to put your plan together before you go play. You just don’t go wing it, so that’s why I always want to be very cautious about divulging too much.”
Whatever the plan, the goal is righteous.
“I think we’re all hoping,” he said, “that some good can come out of all these conversations and that we can see significant change in the world and in people’s thinking and how we treat one another is not only as Americans but as humans. I would say that’s the hope.”