CITY.NET Café hosted a public recording session of the Essential Voices series, with host and local broadcast legend Eric Von on July 27.
Von is an acclaimed broadcast journalist and commentator, with a questioning style that enlightens listeners by getting to the heart of issues. A radio industry veteran spanning three decades, his Essential Voices series is a conversation between Von and people who he thinks members of the community should know about.
“These are individuals I find interesting, and once people get to know them for more than just the things that are popular in the media about them, the public will have a different take on who these people are,” said Von. “I think it explains sometimes why people do the things they do, how they got to where they are. And I hope that it will serve as an inspiration for people who are looking for a way to move their lives to the next level.”
Von’s guest was former football strong safety LeRoy Butler, who played his entire career with the Green Bay Packers and was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in 2007. Butler grew up in Jacksonville, Florida with a physical condition that required him to wear leg braces and use a wheel chair. Yet he went on to be selected by the Packers in round two of the 1990 NFL draft, played in 181 games, earned a Super Bowl ring for Super Bowl XXXI, played in four Pro Bowl games, and was named to the 1990s NFL All Decade Team.
The Essential Voices series presents greater insight into the person Von selects as his guest. As with Butler, most of what people know about him is based on a professional presence. Von’s questions offered Butler a more intimate platform to share details about his life and experiences. The conversation touched on an array of subjects, from sports to politics, and faith. The following are five segments of Butler’s replies to questions asked by Von.
Regarding the current conversation within the National Football League to induct Butler into the NFL Hall of Fame, the former athlete said:
“When you talk to athletes about accolades, or individual honors, or the Hall of Fame, and they say it’s not that big of a deal, or they really don’t care. Well, I care. It’s a big deal and a pinnacle of my life. Especially from where I came from, a single family parent home from the projects. My mother raised five kids by herself in Jacksonville, Florida. I had braces on my legs in a wheel chair. Kids always picked on me. I was in special education my whole life. So to have the chance to be in the discussion for the NFL Hall of Fame, for me, it’d be a great story. But the bigger story is how my mother was my role model.”
Butler spoke on his challenges growing up with physical problems:
“I remember asking my Grandmother how to deal with bullies and kids picking on me. Said that God gave everyone a talent, you’ve got to figure out what it is. What is that unique ability to put the blinders on and ignore anything negative? So I was 9 or 10 years old and I really didn’t know what she meant by that. But the more I kept asking her about it, the more she explained that lots of the kids in the projects may not make it. She said, don’t let someone tell you that only less of 1% of kids can make it out of here to play football. Because there is a chance, you’re going to be that chance. Once I heard that, nothing got in my way of making it. So what I like to tell kids when I speak them, its not love. I just believe what my grandmother said about God giving me a talent.”
The lesson Butler learned about how communicating overcomes fear:
“When I talk to most adults, the biggest issue on the job with people our age is networking. They are a little embarrassed, how do you get to know somebody? You would not believe how my Mom got me past the fear of networking. She said, when we get to church I’m going to put you in the youth department. I want you to learn everyone’s name by the time church is out. And I thought that was kind of weird, walking up to all these kids and introducing myself. And she said, exactly. If you own the conversation, people don’t have time to pick on you. And once you get to know everybody you’ll become friends.”
Upon hearing the news about the passing of Reggie White, defensive end for the Green Bay Packers:
“It made me think about when Reggie got to Green Bay. He came into the locker room and said, I want everybody to go to Bible study. So I went and there was only four of us in there. Nobody was there. So I said, let me talk to you for a minute. You are going to have to show these guys that you are just like them. Every Thursday in the National Football League, guys go out for a beer, eat wings, and have fellowship after practice. And he said, in his voice, I ain’t going to no bar. So I said, you have to. You have to do what Jesus did. You have to go and meet the people where they are. You can’t just expect them, a lot of these young rookies, to even know your history. So the following Thursday he goes out to the bar, he got there early because he goes to bed at eight o’clock. And he was serving drinks and having fun with the boys. The following Friday, we had 47 guys at Bible study. Now, some of the guys did open their Bibles upside-down, but at least they were there. That’s what I thought about when I heard he passed. His impact.”
And breaking news about an upcoming project that Butler is working on about race and sports:
“It’s called ‘Three or Four hours’ and it’s about race and sports. For three of four hours when you go to a game, you don’t care who is next to you. You know you’re gong to a Green Bay Packers game. I don’t know if the guy sitting next to me is with Black Lives Matter. I don’t know if the other guy next to me is a racist. I don’t know if this guy is a cop. I don’t know if he is a school teacher. It doesn’t matter. Because when Aaron Rodgers throws a touch down, I’m gonna high five the guy on my left. And I’m gonna high five the guy on my right. For four hours I don’t even think about race. I’m focused on one color, my team, the Green and Gold. When I enter the stadium no one cares about race or religion because you are there for your team. The problem is, when you leave the game, we go back to our old self and to whatever corner where we’ve dug in. Sports gives you an avenue to be a normal person for four hours and not be judged. You can write stuff on your face, and dress up like you want to. If its 30° below you can take your shirt off and dance and people say, he’s not weird he’s a Packers fan. But for some reason, when we leave the game we pick a side. So I just want America to realize, we should live our lives like those three or four hours.”
Von began his Essential Voices series in February, and has built a library of interviews each month. He plans to release the audio segments to the public online around Thanksgiving. He remains one of the most sought after opinion leaders in Wisconsin, for his ability to share insight on political and socio-economic issues. Von is also the managing partner of public relations firm, Von Communications, and the founder and publisher of Brain Brawn & Body, a wellness website committed to improving the health of African American men and their families.