Class of 2022: LeRoy Butler cites his mother as best teammate in journey to Hall of Fame

By Brendan Heffernan
Pro Football Hall of Fame

LeROY BUTLER’S journey to Canton was never easy, but it was never a journey he had to make alone.

“I was so lucky,” Butler said. “It made me say to myself, ‘Self, why is God choosing you to navigate these rough waters, but he keeps giving you these great people?’ You’ve got to listen.”

Butler is one of eight members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022 who will be enshrined Saturday, Aug. 6, inside Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. Butler made a name for himself as a versatile, game-breaking safety during his 12 seasons with the Green Bay Packers. He made four Pro Bowls, four first team All-Pro teams, the Hall of Fame’s 1990s All-Decade Team and won a Super Bowl ring while in Green Bay.

Butler rattled off the names of dozens of coaches, teammates, teachers and family members who he credited with shaping his success while addressing media members July 14 from his home in Racine, Wis. Butler spent the most time thanking his mother Eunice, who raised Butler as a single parent in Jacksonville’s Blodgett Homes housing projects.

Butler dealt with serious health and learning challenges as a child on top of growing up in poverty. Born severely pigeon-toed, Butler needed a wheelchair and metal leg braces for the first eight years of his life. Butler said one of the most important values his mother instilled in him during that difficult childhood was patience.

“When you have a special needs kid who can’t go outside, can’t go swimming, can't do sleepovers, you need to be a patient person,” Butler said. “She taught me a long line of things.”

That patience came in handy when Butler had to wait until he no longer needed braces or his wheelchair to begin pursuing his dreams of football stardom. 

It came in handy again when he struggled with learning to read as a child and when he needed to sit out his freshman year at Florida State.

It really came in handy when Butler had to wait until his 16th year of eligibility to get the “knock'' and finally be recognized as a Pro Football Hall of Famer. 

Throughout all his times as a finalist and semifinalist, Butler said his mother encouraged him to never get too hung up on the final result. 

“I remember talking to her and she’d say ‘remember, before you get upset that you didn’t make it, remember that a lot of guys are never going to be in this position, so enjoy the process,’ ” Butler said. “Even my mom told me I wasn't a first ballot Hall of Famer, shoutout to my mom for being honest!”

Butler said he and his mother began working on his Hall of Fame speech together more than 20 years ago, starting after he made the 1990s All-Decade Team. Eunice passed away six and half years ago, but she’ll be with him in the words he says when he takes the podium next month. 

Butler said he’ll have all the special needs kids who grew up needing to be patient on stage with him too. He wants to make sure that they know they’re not alone either.

“Imagine being a special needs kid, getting bullied for wearing hand-me-downs, not being able to eat the hot lunches because I had free or reduced lunch, not being picked on the playground because I have these braces on my legs,” Butler said. “That's who I represent: the special needs kids.”

Brendan Heffernan is a student at Loyola University New Orleans and he is an intern this summer at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.