Saturday, October 24, 2009

Why Exactly Does White Get the Free Pass?

A Fan Mail letter to the Green Bay Press-Gazette Packers Preview section on October 24 caught my eye today (sorry, no link apparently available):

Fitzgerald, Ga. - The Packer management is undecided as to how and when to retire Brett Favre's number. To pit No. 4 along with Nos. 5, 15, 66, and 92 would be a total disgrace to the these. No way should an out-and-out traitor have No. 4 placed along with these greats who were proud to be and remain Packers. Also, remove all things in town and Brown County that refer to the traitor. --Gene Larson

Now, I am fully aware that this season has brought on some intense emotions wrought by the Favre divorce and eventual marriage to the Vikings. It is also pretty clear that the Packers have struggled and the Vikings have found success thus far this season, and this hasn't helped the frustration.

Pretty much any letter to the editor, forum thread, article comments, or blog posts nowadays seems to either damn Brett Favre or Ted Thompson...without a whole lot of middle ground.

But, the glaring error in the post made me ponder for a second...why exactly is Brett Favre the bad guy while Reggie White gets a free pass?

The writer claims that all the gentlemen who have their numbers retired "were proud to be and remain Packers". Yet, in Reggie White's case, that's really not how it ended.


In 1998, Reggie White retired from football. However, God told him he needed to play again, so he returned to the Packers shortly thereafter.

In 1999, Reggie White retired, and did not play in the 1999 season.

In 2000, Reggie White petitioned Ron Wolf to reinstate and release him, so that he could sign with the Carolina Panthers. Ron Wolf agreed to this without searching for compensation.

In 2000, Reggie White's Panthers played against the Green Bay Packers and defeated them.

Now, following this timeline, it certainly shows that Mr. Larson is wrong in that all of those men remained Packers. It also shows two very divergent stories with very similar milestones along the way.

Both Favre and White had retirement "changes of heart". Both eventually did retire and then requested a release from their contract at a later time in order to play for a team on the Packers' schedule the following season.

Yet the reaction of the team and the public was far different for both players. While Ron Wolf quickly agreed to the release, Ted Thompson held out for several months expecting value for the commodity.

The public reacted to White's willing desire to play elsewhere with a sad "ho-hum", while Favre's desire riled nearly every fan to its core, one way or another. And, as we know, while White had a street named posthumously after him in Green Bay, Packer fans today are trying to find a way to change the street sign already named for Favre to something belittling.

Why the difference? Why does White get the pass? Is it really something as simple as Favre wanting to play for the Vikings making all the difference? Is it really just Packer fans really being totally "sick" of Favre's retirement saga year after year?

In many ways, both seem like rather lame excuses for what is a tremendous difference in reaction from not only the media and fans, but also the organization.

I have no concrete answer for you. I wish I did, but how do you explain so many different emotional reactions in a rational manner? What makes the situation more confusing is the way White left the team.

White had gotten himself involved in a couple of politically controversial issues at the end of his Packer career. In March of 1998, he made a speech that was interpreted as being racially stereotyping and earned him a lot of criticism. Later than year, he used the television show 20/20 to comment on his opposition to homosexuality, then appeared in anti-gay ads in newspapers with his Packer uniform, without the consent of the team or the NFL.

I do suspect that the Packers weren't too upset about distancing themselves from White by the time he asked to come out of retirement. And, you had the feeling that even in his final years, there was still an estrangement between the Packers and White. Yet, upon his death, the Packers couldn't trip over themselves fast enough to honor White and retire his number.

Now, certainly Favre has done his part to alienate the Packers and their fans, too, but it seems his motivation is more personal with the general manager than with his former teammates or Packer fans.

But, no matter how you slice it, White went through many of the same questionable moves as Favre (retirement issues, requesting a release, playing with another team on the schedule) but didn't get the same treatment. Thompson didn't end the suspense quickly by honoring a release as Wolf did with White, instead forcing a trade to AFC Siberia with poison pills to boot. White got to go where he wanted, and ended up giving the Packers a loss in 2000 as the only compensation for the deal.

I have no idea how the #4 retirement saga will play out in the future. It may be delayed until Thompson is no longer with the team. It may be delayed until Favre's passing. It may never happen at all. I think it should happen eventually, but it should happen at a time when all parties involved are at peace with the decision.

But, I was uneasy with White's number retirement to begin with, not because of the controversy surrounding him, but the fact that he didn't even spend half of his career in Green Bay. If we're going to fling poo at Brett Favre for not being proud to remain a Packer, shouldn't we be revoking White's free pass, too?


PackersRS said...

You're right that they had SIMILAR trajectories... Except White didn't play for any rival, NEITHER STATED THAT HE WANTED TO PLAY FOR A RIVAL. White didn't pettitioned for his players, neither for HIS COACHES, didn't have a separate locker room, and didn't threat to retire every season, he RETIRED and wanted to come back. It wasn't a bluff, unlike with Favre, that kept the team hostage every offseason.
The situations may SEEM similar, but in reality weren't, mainly because of the REASONS both did what they did.

C.D. Angeli said...

I certainly understand the emotions surrounding the two players. Removing that emotion, however, does reveal two different trajectories in how the two players were treated, both by fans, media, and the organization.

Reggie White retired and unretired in late April 1998. Favre's announcements he was returning were made in April (2004), March (2005), April (2006), and February (2007).

I totally understand the emotions involved make things a lot "different", but there were a lot of similarities between the two. Rival or not, Reggie White handed the Packers an "L" in 2000, and the Packers got zilch in return for it.

Anonymous said...

Are you truly so obtuse that you don't see that Favre manipulated the system....retiring, unretiring, retiring, asking for his release....specifically for the purpose of playing for our archrivals? If you can't see the difference between his schtick and what Reggie White did, then I can't help you.

Anonymous said...

nobody told reggie that the train left the station

that he was not allowed to play

that he could have 20 million to not play

Wolf did not refuse his phone calls

Wolf did not go on vacation to avoid him

it is hard to imagine any one being so into conspiracy as to think that Favre 'manipulated' his retirement(S) to get to the vikings for


I mean seriously think a bit before you post drivel

C.D. Angeli said...

You know, Mark, I don't think it's an obtuse question at all. The letter I quoted placed all of the men on the scoreboard in the same category. I pointed out the facts that placed one of those players closer to #4 than to #15.