Did the Packers Try to Intimidate a Young Writer After Strong Reporting?


Packers defensive lineman Letroy Guion was suspended for the first three games of this season after he was pulled over with an ample amount of weed and cash this past February. Last week, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel published an exhaustively researched story by John Diedrich and Michael Cohen, a reporter in his mid-20’s, which detailed this arrest and uncovered previously unreported domestic violence allegations against Guion (the player was charged with battery, and in one of the incidents received deferred prosecution).

This week, Cohen’s colleague Bob McGinn, a venerable veteran at the Journal-Sentinel who in 2011 received the Dick McCann Award at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, noted that Cohen had a harrowing run-in at Packers practice this week:

On Monday afternoon, the Journal Sentinel’s Michael Cohen, one of the two writers on the Guion story, was on the sidelines covering practice. Rob Davis, the team’s director of player engagement since 2008, continually gestured and stared in Cohen’s direction. When Cohen was looking down at his roster taking player attendance, Davis came over and placed his head about a foot from Cohen’s head. Startled, Cohen introduced himself to Davis and extended his hand. “No, we haven’t met,” said Davis, refusing to shake Cohen’s hand. “And I don’t want to know you.”

Later, Davis told me he confused Cohen with another reporter. That’s a reporter he has known for about 20 years and outweighs Cohen by at least 50 pounds. “I got nothing to say about that,” said Davis. “I wasn’t messing with him … why would I be angry? I’ve got nothing to be angry about.” Davis, a one-time bouncer for Dennis Rodman, is part of the team’s inner circle and a first contact for players, wives and girlfriends on all types of issues. One interpretation is Davis bullied Cohen, and in a league with many anti-bullying initiatives his actions were regrettable, to say the least.

There is a lot to unpack here:

1) The newspaper tried to reach Mike McCarthy, Ted Thompson, and Mark Murphy (the Packers’ president) through a team spokesman, who declined comment on all of their behalves. It’s not as though the organization was blindsided by this story. If they didn’t know about Guion’s previous alleged domestic violence incidents — and a McGinn source indicates they didn’t — which occurred when he was a member of the Vikings before being asked for comment, they could have done the same public records excavation as the Journal-Sentinel.

2) The Packers had zero right to be upset with Cohen for his story last week. It was not the type of piece where there was loaded language accusing the organization of negligence, or scolding them for continuing to employ Guion. It was matter-of-fact reporting of incidents that, again, are a matter of public record. Playing in by far the smallest NFL market, the Packers have it easier than some other franchises when it comes to controlling the message [UPDATE: It was rightfully pointed out to me that this previous sentence was unfair, and I rescind it. Many good reporters cover the Packers, for a variety outlets.] However unfortunate it was for them that reality and good PR are not one in the same, it’s disappointing that at least one of their employees reacted this way.

3) This anecdote about Cohen’s run-in with a Packers employee was part of a broader story McGinn was telling about how the Packers are not above the fray when it comes to taking character risks. He also mentioned Colt Lyerla — last year McGinn lamented the team’s going to “the gutter” to sign him — and concluded:

"“There’s days I’ll go home and say to my wife, ‘We are in a sleazy business,'” an NFL assistant coach with more than 25 years of experience said last week. He’s right, and the Packers are part of it. In house, they like to boast about the so-called “Packer Way,” and all that the organization believes that represents. The Packers cultivate a holier than thou image, and their followers eat it up. The truth is, the Packers are like just about every other franchise when it comes to looking the other way and hoping for the best when it comes to procuring problem players."

There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance required to enjoy sports, and especially football. We know that the players are not always the best people, and that they often thrive on the field not just in spite of this, but because of their inherent violent streak. The sport itself mangles its participants’ bodies and brains. Aware of all this, we’re still going to spend all day ravenously consuming it.

I’ve grappled back and forth about whether the NFL should act to supersede our flawed criminal justice system (based purely on incentives, this certainly shouldn’t be left up to individual teams). This is a league that has, to put it kindly, not earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to its investigative ethics and competence. There isn’t a leadership structure there that inspires confidence that their goal would be to right wrongs. While that result may end up being a byproduct of individual instances, in aggregate the league has proven more concerned with its own imagery — working backwards to “prove” what it was looking for — than actual justice. Are we sure we want this institution to have more power?

As a Packers fan, I cringed when I read Cohen and Diedrich’s piece on Guion last week, and nodded guiltily at most of what McGinn wrote in his follow-up (one area of it I disagreed with was the implication that Johnny Jolly’s repeated troubles with codeine represented a character flaw). Jerry Jones gets crucified for tone-deaf defenses of Greg Hardy, but at least he faces reporters and is transparent about what is on his mind. The Packers, who never stop touting their commitment to the community, “no commented,” and then got upset that reporters had the audacity to publish facts in a balanced manner. Nevertheless, I have no doubts that I’ll get out of my seat and scream with joy if Guion sacks Peyton Manning tonight.