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Murphy Takes 5: Player safety of paramount concern this offseason


Murphy Takes 5 is a monthly column written by President and CEO Mark Murphy. On the first Saturday of every month, Mark will write about a topic of interest to Packers fans and the organization, and then answer five fan questions. Fans are encouraged to email Mark with their name and hometown at:

Player safety has dominated this offseason, and rightfully so. There is no more important issue facing the league. Given the concerns about the long-term impact of football injuries, especially concussions, the future of football is at risk. The concern is that more parents will not allow their sons to play football due to safety concerns. Given the fact that in each of the last three years participation in youth football has declined, this concern has been heightened recently. If fewer boys play football, not only is the pool of future players reduced, it will also reduce the number of future football fans. In addition, the league is being sued by more than 4,000 former players alleging that the teams concealed information from them about the long-term impact of concussions, which has brought even more attention to injury concerns.

In recent years, the NFL has taken many steps to improve player safety, focusing on rule changes, equipment improvement and player discipline. This offseason, though, the discussions concerning safety have taken on a different, much more focused tone. I've particularly noticed this change in the Competition Committee. First, almost every proposed rule change this year is designed to make the game safer. Also, we're considering changes that most likely wouldn't have even been considered as recently as two years ago. The biggest changes involve the use of the helmet. In recent years, more and more of our players are using the helmet as a weapon. In considering possible rule changes, we want to take the helmet out of play and get back to shoulder tackling and wrapping up with your arms. The intent is to protect not only the person being hit by the helmet, but also the player hitting with the helmet. Concussion studies show that the hitter is more often injured than the hittee. Interestingly, a current rule prohibits a player from using the helmet to spear, butt or ram another player. It is almost never enforced, though, especially in the open field. We've focused both on runners and tacklers using the helmet as a weapon. These are important discussions and we all have a sense that, literally, the future of football is at stake. The discussions will culminate in a series of rules changes to be voted on by the owners in March. It is a bit of a balancing act in that we don't want to take away what has made the game so popular, but we know we have to make the game safer.

Now, on to your questions:

Abdullah from Brampton, Ontario, Canada

As a Packers fan from the time I started watching football, I have a question regarding the Packers' ability to spend money, being that they are the only publicly owned team in the NFL. Does being publicly owned affect the team's ability to spend money via free agency compared to when having a single private owner, or has the process of building a team through the draft and building through the system been so successful that the team does not see the need to go out and make splashy big-name signings unless absolutely necessary?

Thanks, Abdullah. This is a question that I am often asked. I think many fans fear that we are at a disadvantage because we don't have a deep-pocketed owner. First, I can assure you and other fans that we are not at a disadvantage in this area. On an annual basis, we absolutely provide our football team the resources they need to be successful. Also, we've established a preservation fund to replicate the resources that an individual owner may have. In addition, the changes we've made over the last decade, including the major renovation in 2003 and the South End Zone expansion, are very helpful in this regard. Finally, the salary cap system in the NFL also helps to ensure that teams can't buy championships by outspending other teams. The most successful teams manage their rosters and the salary cap well.

Joe from Joppa, MD

I see from your bio you earned your MBA from American University while playing at a very high level for the Washington Redskins. How were you able to do two very challenging things at the same time? Are there other success stories with Packers players earning graduate degrees while with your organization?

The NFL was much different when I played. Very little was required of players in the offseason, and salaries were relatively much lower than they are now. As a result, many players worked in the offseasons (in order to have enough money to get through to the next season) or went back to school. My first offseason, I worked for a company that sold municipal and corporate bonds. I was an economics major at Colgate, so I thought it would be good to get experience in a financial field. In my second offseason, I started taking classes in the MBA program in the Kogod School of Business at American University. I would take a full load of classes in spring, one class in the summer session and one evening class in the fall. It took me just about four years to earn my MBA. I knew that my career in the NFL wouldn't last long, so I wanted to do things in the offseason to help me when my career ended.  While it was sometimes hectic, I didn't think it was overly challenging to do both football and school (it was similar to being a student athlete in college), and felt that it helped in the sense that it gave me some balance in my life. I know that many other players over the years have either gone back to finish their undergraduate degrees or earned graduate degrees while playing. On our current team, Tim Masthay is working on his Masters in Sports Administration at Ohio University.

Rob from Benton, AR

How do you guys stay consistent year after year? It has to start with management at your level. I see other teams who are consistently bad year after year. How do you guys remain at the top of the league?

Great question, Robert. The NFL is a very competitive business and it is difficult to achieve consistent success. In fact, the league is designed to promote competitive parity with scheduling and draft policies giving advantages to losing teams. I think stability in management and coaching has been a key for the Packers over the years. Also, as I mentioned in the first question, we've been able to provide football with the resources they need to be successful. We want them to be able to make all decisions based on football, not finances. Also, our General Manager and Head Coach are given great autonomy when making decisions. I also think our ownership structure and the support of our fans are key factors. The support of our fans is unparalleled in the NFL and the fact that our fans are shareholders gives them a stronger tie to the team than other teams' fans enjoy. When you put all that together, you have a chance to be good, but you still need to have breaks go your way, especially with regard to injuries, to win championships.

Tyler from Fairfax, VT

What has been your favorite experience or interaction with a player or coach in your career with the Green Bay Packers? Who and why?

My favorite experience involves Charles Woodson. First, I should say that I have tremendous respect for Charles, both as a person and player. I think a part of my affection for Charles is due to the fact that we played the same position. He plays the game the way it is supposed to be played, with intelligence and toughness. During our Super Bowl win over the Steelers, Charles broke his collarbone. I looked for Charles in the locker room but wasn't able to catch him. I finally saw him on the bus after the game. I knew it was a bittersweet moment for Charles, with the excitement of winning a Super Bowl (his first), but also with the disappointment of the injury and not being able to finish the game. So, I wasn't sure how to approach him. I congratulated him and told him I was sorry about his injury. He told me not to feel sorry for him, that this was a great moment for the Packers and him. He was obviously in a lot of pain, but I could see the joy in his eyes. To me, his response showed his maturity and commitment to the team. I could clearly see in that moment why he was such a respected leader on the team.

Dan from Kewanee, IL

What would a typical day, if there is such a thing, be like for you at 1265 Lombardi Ave.  During the season, how much interaction do you have with Mike McCarthy, Ted Thompson, and the players?  How often does the executive board meet and what things are usually on the agenda?  Lastly, please tell us what routine you follow, if any, when the Packers have a home game.

One of the best parts of my job is that there is no such thing as a typical day. Like most managers, I spend a lot of time in meetings with staff members, planning the business of the organization. League business also takes a lot of my time – both on league committees and at owners meetings. Given the public nature of our organization, I also spend a lot of time with the media or making public appearances. I do have regular, but limited, contact with Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy. I think it's important to allow people to do their jobs without micromanaging them. I do, though, try to ensure that they know that I'm involved and supportive, and want to help them succeed. Our board meets four times a year (once in the offseason, once in the preseason and twice during the season). The executive committee of the board meets monthly. The agenda for the meetings vary, but typically involve a football report, president's report, NFL update, budget update and investment report. At home games, I usually get to the stadium about four hours before the game. I like to walk through the parking lot and stadium to get a feel for gameday atmosphere. It's also an opportunity to talk to many of our fans and employees. I try to be on the field about an hour to an hour-and-a-half before the game. This is a good opportunity to talk with the owner and other executives from the visiting team, as well as NFL officials. I watch the game in a box with Ted Thompson and Russ Ball. I head down to the locker room after the game and then go to the reception for players and their families.  I usually get home about two hours after the game.

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