News: Packers visit Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy cadets
Story by 1st Lt. Joseph Trovato
FORT MCCOY, Wis. - The Green Bay Packers visited the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy at Fort McCoy, Wis., May 17 to offer words of encouragement and share their own experiences about overcoming adversity.
Current players Jared Bush, Randall Cobb, and Alex Green joined Packers alumni Frank Winters, Aaron Taylor, and Santana Dotson, as well as Mark Murphy, the team’s chief executive officer and president, as they visited the academy as part of their annual Tailgate Tour across Wisconsin.
The cadets participated in a panel discussion with the players, who shared stories about their personal lives and how they found success in football and life.
“I know all of you have faced challenges and adversity in your life, and a lot of our players have too,” Murphy said before introducing the players.
“I think the key when you look at successful people and successful football players, it’s how you respond to adversity,” he said. “Do you give up and say, ‘That’s it?’ Or do you fight back? When you get knocked on your butt in a football game you get up, because in any game and in life you’re going to face setbacks. And how you respond to those situations really defines the kind of person, the kind of career, the kind of life that you will have.”
Wide receiver Randall Cobb shared the story of his father’s recovery from drug and alcohol addiction with the cadets.
“That told me that we all have a purpose,” he said. “I think that my purpose was for my dad to recover from drugs and alcohol, so I wanted to do better in my life to reach out to other people as well.”
“I think with the way that I was raised, that showed me the importance of being able to give back to people,” Cobb said. “I’ve had a few obstacles growing up. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a support system around me in my parents and my grandparents to raise me the right way and show me the way that you’re supposed to be and show me how important your honesty and your integrity is.”
The players’ message hit home with the cadets, many of whom faced similar obstacles that landed them in trouble at a young age.
“The one guy had a similar story as a lot of these cadets here,” said Cadet Stryker Rivers, of Chippewa Falls, Wis. “Seeing how far they can go obviously shows that if you really work hard at what you want to do, you can get there, and you can definitely be successful.”
Aaron Taylor, who played on the 1996 Packers squad that won the Super Bowl, had several major injuries that derailed his career at times. The former first-round draft selection said the adversity those injuries created led him to abuse drugs and alcohol. After a six-year playing career, Taylor retired and went on to become a broadcaster with CBS Sports.
“But at the time, I was so depressed and angry, because I wasn’t able to achieve what it was that I wanted,” Taylor told the cadets. “And all I wanted to do was have that 10- or 15-year career that I think I felt like initially I was talented enough to have. But I felt like it had been taken from me.
“Looking back, what I didn’t know then that I know now is that that was the best thing that could have happened to me," Taylor continued. "It allowed me to be able to play a game to make a nice living for myself, but I didn’t stay in a situation where I could have hurt myself even more. It meant that I got sober a lot quicker than I would have had I kept playing.”
Taylor implored the cadets to remember that everything happens for a reason and that there is a purpose for whatever challenges they face.
“I think at the end of the day, that’s having a faith and belief in who you are and what you were created to be,” he said. “And that there are no circumstances that we are given that we cannot overcome.”
Santana Dotson, who also became a Super Bowl champion with the Packers, said one of the most important factors in a successful life is surrounding oneself with quality people.
“You start to understand at a very early age the importance of getting around the right nucleus of people, coaches, peers — people that weren’t dream killers, killing my dream,” Dotson said.
Visiting the cadets and sharing his message was important to Dotson, who set up community foundations in Houston and Milwaukee.
“They’re looking for some guidance and direction,” he said of the troubled youths he sees. “Unfortunately there is not much at home, and there is not much in their communities except pointing them to the wrong things. They’re just looking for some positive light, some outlook, and we’re fortunate to be able to get their attention because of what we did or what we’re doing on the field.”
Each cadet had an opportunity to meet each of the players following their discussion before the Packers continued on their Tailgate Tour.