Ex-Packers safety LeRoy Butler speaks on WSU aiding disabled students, gay athletes in pro sports, NFL quarterbacks he feared

Andrew Smith

Former Packers' safety LeRoy Butler speaking at the Apollo Room Tuesday night as part of the Presidential Lecture Series.

Andrew Smith, Sports Editor

Former All-Pro Green Bay Packers safety LeRoy Butler spoke to a crowd of several hundred students, educators and WSU administrators Tuesday night at the Apollo Room inside the Student Union as part of the Presidential Lecture Series.

Butler spoke for 30 minutes about his 11-year NFL career, growing up in the housing projects of Jacksonville, Fla. and overcoming a debilitating birth defect that left him severely pigeon-toed. Butler went on to win a Super Bowl with Green Bay in 1996 and was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2007.

He is also credited with inventing the Lambeau Leap during a 1993 game against the Los Angeles Raiders.

Since retiring from the NFL in 2001, Butler has stayed in the public spotlight and has been an advocate for underprivileged kids, created an anti-bullying campaign – “Be a Buddy, Not a Bully” –  while also raising money for people affected by breast cancer.

Guardian Sports sat down with the four-time Pro Bowl defender to discuss various topics, relating to his experiences on and off the field:

On why he chose to visit Wright State:

“I think it’s the No.1 school for disability. I think [WSU] is ahead of…most universities. If you have a disability, how do you fit in? How do you feel like every other student? Having an underground system where they can go from place to place. They let people with disabilities know, ‘you’re not forgotten and you’re one of us.’ That really interests me, because I had clubbed feet. And I feel like that’s a form of people saying, ‘You can’t run and jump like me, so you’re different.’ But no, you’re not different.”

“I think [WSU] is a hidden gem that everybody should come and see the way the president has gotten this university on the map, when it comes to helping out people with disabilities.”

On why he has decided to remain a prominent public figure:

“Because my story was important to me. My mom was my role model and she always told me, ‘God put everybody on this earth with a gift and you have to figure out what it is.’ Mine was networking. You can put me in a room and close the door. If you come back in an hour, I know everybody. And she thought that’s the way I could get through racism, I can get through bullying and I can get through one of my friends being gay. All of this negative mumbo-jumbo that society brings up, I can get through all of that.”

“We have to be leaders in our community and it’s just important for me to get that message out, especially with kids and young adults. Most athletes can do just about anything. I could have just not come here and do my own thing, but it wouldn’t be what I think the lord has put me on the earth [to do].”

On what NFL Draft prospect Michael Sam’s announcement will do for the game of football:

“See, the NFL is smart. It brings in a whole other wave of fans. It brings in a whole other wave of money. Gay people have more money, good credit, more friends and as soon as people get on with it, the better they’ll be. I think, in years to come, you may see five or six guys on every team being openly gay and no one cares. It’s going to be a quarterback. It’s going to be someone you cheer for every week. It’s going to be somebody that you look up to.”

On NFL quarterbacks he feared playing against:

“Those are the guys that made me step my game up; the guys I was scared to play. Troy Aikman, Steve Young. And they were smart. I could fool some of the inexperienced quarterbacks. I couldn’t fool those guys. Warren Moon, Joe Montana and Dan Marino. I couldn’t fool them, they were smart. Even my own guy, Brett Favre, going against him in practice, I couldn’t fool him. Some guys…I got them in the palm of my hand, but those guys, man, they put up great numbers, but they were students of the game. I would disguise [my coverage], they’d know, ‘Oh, Butler, you coming in the A gap,’ I said, ‘[snaps fingers] I gotta change something.'”

“So, those are guys I really feared, because I think fear, if you look deep into it, if you have a fear of snakes, you would stay away from it and you try to learn how to conquer it. So fear is good and I used to use that to my advantage. And I think that’s a misconception. Everybody wants to be a tough guy. It’s not [about] being scared. It drives you. It’s the adrenaline. When we played the Dallas Cowboys, we could never beat Troy Aikman. That was at their place. When they came to Lambeau Field, we beat them 40-6. The fear drove me to play well, and I think that’s something a lot of people wouldn’t know.”

On rule changes for hitting quarterbacks and defenseless receivers:

“I think it’s about right, because I don’t want to hit a defenseless guy who doesn’t have the ball,  but also, you want us to hit a hitting target. You’re trying to protect, really, a camaraderie, but I’m also trying to do my job. My job is to dislodge him from the ball, pick the ball up and score. There’s ways to do that. You attack the football. The football is away from the body. The football is in a position [that's] never around the head, so why go for the head? That’s how I would coach it, that’s how I was taught and I never had a lot of problems with that.”

“So I tell guys, ‘go after the football.’ The football is in the good hitting area. You go after that brown ball, and as you get close, you strike in the torso. If you’re lucky enough, you can dislodge the ball. If you’re really lucky, you can punch the ball out, make the tackle and your buddy scores. And that’s what you have to preach. Go where the ball is. Put that cross hair right on the ball…now, he’s not going to let you hit him, especially if you play somebody like Barry Sanders. Now there’s fear.”

On the quality of the current NFL product potentially being ruined by excess penalties on defensive players:

“What you’ll see, is guys getting hit low, like Randall Cobb…or Rob Gronkowski. Or you’ll see guys saying, ‘You know what? you’re on SportsCenter because a guy jumped over you like Calvin Johnson and scored a touchdown with three guys laying on the ground. My kids are watching that play and saw me miss a tackle, and now I’m going to make sure that doesn’t happen again.'”

“I don’t think the game will ever be affected by it, because, for the most part, people want to see touchdowns. They don’t want to see Seattle winning with the best defense. They want to see Peyton Manning put up 55 points. But I like to see defense. And [Seattle] played the right way and the best defense won. And I think more people will come around and say, ‘You know what? I like defense.’ I know some people want to see a video game. But ultimately, if your team has a great defense, you’ll be in those title games. And I think people will come around to that. I hope they do, anyway.”

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