XLV: The festering team photo issue

Well, well, well. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that, after the wild season we’ve had in the NFC North, we would have a bizarre exchange among Green Bay Packers players during the bye weekend that bridges the two weeks of hype for Super Bowl XLV.

In case you skipped or otherwise boycotted the blog last week, you know that a mini tempest developed when the 15 members of the Packers’ injured reserve list realized they would not be included in the official team photograph next week. Ultimately, coach Mike McCarthy -- with some urging from his team captains, of which quarterback Aaron Rodgers is one -- adjusted next week’s schedule to include them.

McCarthy made clear that he wasn’t happy with linebacker Nick Barnett and tight end Jermichael Finley for initiating the public portion of the drama. Now we have reason to wonder if at least some players feel the same way.

Saturday, Rodgers went out of his way to point out that some of the Packers’ injured players left the team for portions of the season to conduct off-site rehabilitation, a not-uncommon occurrence based on my experience. Barnett and Finley are known to be two of them, and Barnett responded with a series of angry tweets before deleting most of them and claiming he would quit Twitter altogether as a result.

You can watch Rodgers’ entire interview on the Packers web site. First, here is the exact question he was responding to:

"Do you feel for the IR guys -- I’m not even talking about the photo flap thing -- just that they are not able to take part in this?"

Rodgers’ full response: "Well, I’ll say this. I was on IR back in 2006, and I chose to stick around and finish out the season with my guys and be here every game. Some of those guys didn’t. And so, we love them, we care about them, we don’t wish injury on anybody, but this is a group of guys that’s really come together and has been great to work with. It’s been great to work with the guys we brought in midseason, some of them, and the young guys. Some of the guys who were injured, you know, they are still part of this team, but some of them didn’t choose to stick around."

According to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com, here is the content of Barnett’s since-deleted tweets:



"Well looks like people have something to say about where some people choose to do there rehab. Try rehabing with 16 others then 53 more … Doubt you get the full attention needed.. It's easy to speak about others when you are not in their position. Talk about 'union' ha."

Barnett's final tweet, which is still public, reads in part: "All I wanted to be is included as a teammate nothing more. Looks like it has back fired on me. ... That was asking too much... Sorry if I offended anyone.. That was not my intention."

Aside from giving reporters and bloggers something to write about during these long two weeks, the true thrust of this issue has been whether it would serve as a legitimate distraction for a team preparing to play in the Super Bowl. That hardly seemed possible when all of the players involved were ineligible to play in the game. But now it's clear that at least one healthy player, and a prominent one at that, has spent part of his week thinking (and perhaps steaming) about it as well.

By noting that some players had done their rehabilitation elsewhere, Rodgers is implying a level of hypocrisy on the part of Barnett and Finley. In other words: Being a part of the team didn’t matter that much when they were rehabbing, but it did when the teammates they left behind got to the Super Bowl.

Technically, Rodgers might have a point. But is it one worth making eight days away from the Super Bowl? You read the question above. No one led Rodgers into that answer. If anything, he was looking for a way to get it on the record.

At the very least, Rodgers’ comment threw fresh blood into the water as the world’s media is descending on Texas. It is already drawing attention and some concern. When New York Times football reporter Judy Battista re-tweeted one of Barnett’s missives, New York Giants public relations chief Pat Hanlon fired back with this blunt piece of advice: "Fellas, put a lid on it...go play the game...hash this [expletive] out in private. Enough."

Meanwhile, Eric Stangel, the head writer for the "Late Show with David Letterman," offered this "exclusive" first look at the Packers' team photo.

Longtime readers of this blog know I've written plenty of nice things about Rodgers over the years. I've got another such post ready to go Sunday morning. And as a member of the media, I'm always supportive of anyone who speaks their mind and tells the truth. But I have to admit I'm surprised Rodgers shoved this issue back on the front burner. Knowing how the media works, I don’t think it can be pushed to the back now.