The following story was written by Kevin Murphy and appeared in a recent edition of the Middleton-Cross Plains Times-Tribune. The newspaper gave the District permission to run the article.
The Green Bay Packer who originated the Lambeau Leap told Park Elementary School students last week that when he was their age he was confined at times to a wheelchair.
Leroy Butler, 51, said he was a special needs student in grade school; classmates called him names and he had difficulty learning to read.
“In third and fourth grade I had no friends. I needed crutches to get around and needed help getting on and off the bus,” he explained.
Being physically different from other kids meant he wasn’t picked when choosing sides on the playground for teams.
But he learned early that feeling sorry for himself wasn’t going to help he reach his dream of playing professional football. He needed to believe in himself and found others who also believed in him and that was his mother, his grandparents and his teachers who were “his heroes.”
“They were the buffers…they were my role models. They kept me laser focused on doing what I’d want to do, which was playing in the NFL,” he said.
Junior high school wasn’t much easier for Butler but he was finally able to cast off his leg braces.
When he got to high school, kids still laughed at him for being poor and the clothes he wore. But he ignored anything negative the kids had to say about him and instead, absorbed the positive messages he received from his teachers about his abilities and potential.
Soon, he became a standout football player, earned All-American status, received a scholarship to Florida State University and was drafted by the Packers in 1990.
He retired after 11 years with the Packers, being named an All-Pro safety four times. He got involved in business and felt his life story could help young people overcome their obstacles.
“Growing up in an inner city, African-American, single-parent home and I think a lot of kids think when they see this jersey…that we didn’t have problems as a kid. But my teachers encouraged me and helped me make the most of what I could do,” he said.
About five years ago, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield gave Butler a platform to travel the country telling his story of overcoming early disadvantages and succeeding at his life goals.
“It’s not luck that keeps you out of trouble, it’s doing the right thing when you’re confronted with choices,” he said.
Butler had been bullied as a youngster but didn’t let his disabilities define him instead, he believed he would succeed and found encouragement in adults who cared about him.
“There’s a fine line between making fun of someone and bullying them, and kids don’t always recognize that,” he said. “You can be a leader or a follower, but if you’re a follower, choose the right people to follow, and that’s your teachers,” he said.
Butler’s teachers were the smartest people he knew and they weren’t ridiculing him so, he chose to value what they valued, education, and concentrated on his studies. Despite his efforts, his admission into college was still doubtful so he turned to a teacher to help him improve his grades and get a passing mark on a college entrance test.
“I got to live my dream…and you can, too. You can learn to become a leader or a follower, just make sure you follow the right people and those are your teachers,” he told students.