Green Bay Packers' Support of Public Workers Reflect Publicly Owned History

Michael JeeCorrespondent IFebruary 16, 2011

GREEN BAY, WI - FEBRUARY 08: Green Bay Packers fans gather at Lambeau Field for the Packers victory ceremony on February 8, 2011 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Matt Ludtke/Getty Images)
Matt Ludtke/Getty Images

Update: Charles Woodson, team captain and pro bowl cornerback, has declared his support for Wisconsin's public workers through an individual public statement.  Woodson is one of the team's elected representatives to the players' union.

Whether you like football or not, most people know that the Green Bay Packers are Super Bowl XLV Champions.

However, it is a good bet that only true sports history buffs, or ardent Packers fans are aware that Green Bay is the NFL’s only publicly owned franchise.

How else could you explain the existence of a team in Green Bay, Wis., the 268th most populated city in America? 

For a comparison, Arlington, Texas, the site of this year’s Super Bowl, has four times as many people than Titletown, USA.

During the NFL’s early years, other teams called a small town or city home, too.  Yet, as football developed into a lucrative business, all these teams relocated to major cities—except the Packers.

The team’s original owners, who were from Green Bay, wrote into their Articles of Incorporation that any profit from the team’s sale would fund the construction of a proper soldiers’ memorial via the American Legion Post.  They later updated the document to state that all purchase money would go to a foundation that distributes money to charity.

Before television revolutionized the NFL business model, the franchise ran into financial trouble and was forced to sell team stock to bankroll the team, but strict regulations ensured that one person or party could not claim majority ownership.

Thus, the Packers never relocated because the aforementioned clause effectively eliminated any incentive to sell the team.  To this day, the franchise essentially functions as a nonprofit—a rare and remarkable reality in the sports industry.

Even more remarkable is the response of some past and present Packers players after current Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker proposed a plan that would cut some union bargaining rights, which would affect public workers such as teachers, nurses and childcare workers.

These players—including Curtis Fuller, Chris Jackie, Charles Jordan, Bob Long, Steve Okoniewski, Brady Poppinga and Jason Spitz—released a statement supporting the AFL-CIO’s effort to retain workers’ rights.

The full statement reads: 

“We know that it is teamwork on and off the field that makes the Packers and Wisconsin great.  As a publicly owned team, we wouldn’t have been able to win the Super Bowl without the support of our fans.

“It is the same dedication of our public workers every day that make Wisconsin run.  They are the teachers, nurses and child care workers who take care of us and our families.  But now in an unprecedented political attack Governor Walker is trying to take away their right to have a voice and bargain at work.

"The right to negotiate wages and benefits is a fundamental underpinning of our middle class.  When workers join together it serves as a check on corporate power and helps ALL workers by raising community standards.  Wisconsin's long standing tradition of allowing public sector workers to have a voice on the job has worked for the state since the 1930s.  It has created greater consistency in the relationship between labor and management, and a shared approach to public work.

"These public workers are Wisconsin's champions every single day and we urge the Governor and the State Legislature to not take away their rights."

The NFL Players Association, currently embroiled in stalemate negotiations regarding a new Contract Bargaining Agreement, followed suit.

“The NFL Players Association will always support efforts protecting a worker’s right to join a union and collective bargain.  Today, the NFLPA stands in solidarity with its organized labor brothers and sisters in Wisconsin,” said the statement.

These Packers stood by the public that has supported them wholeheartedly since day one, from the team’s inaugural league championship at Super Bowl I to the latest a couple of Sundays ago.

The statement of support serves largely as symbolic affirmation, but it is one of great significance considering what the Packers mean to Wisconsin and the extraordinary franchise history that it reflects.

The gesture, in itself, truly holds more meaning than any Super Bowl ring the Packers have brought and will bring to Green Bay.

Vince Lombardi, the legendary Packers’ coach for whom the Super Bowl trophy is named, once said, “We are our brother’s keeper, I don’t give a damn what people say.  If people can’t find work, whether it’s their fault or not, you’ve got to help them, clothe them, and house them properly, and try to get rid of the problems that have held them back.”

It is only fitting that the Packers ended the season hoisting the winner’s trophy named after their beloved coach and for living out his words through their actions.

Surely, Lombardi would be proud.

For that, it is hard to not cheer, “Go!  You Packers!  Go!”