Still doesn’t seem real: LeRoy Butler relishing Hall of Fame selection

Jacksonville native overcame physical ailments to become Super Bowl champ, hall of famer

Former Green Bay Packer LeRoy Butler talks to the press during the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022 Announcement on February 10, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) (Rob Carr, 2022 Getty Images)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – LeRoy Butler wanted to know what he had that was so special.

One of the newest Pro Football Hall of Fame selections spent the early part of his life in Jacksonville barely able to walk because of issues in his legs and feet. Butler was bullied because of those issues and it didn’t help that his family was poverty-stricken and grew up in public housing.

Butler said on Friday that he wanted to know what was so unique about him. So, he sat down one afternoon with his grandmother and asked what made him so special.

“I remember her saying that God gave everybody a gift. I said, ‘grandmother, what’s my gift?’ Because I got the braces on my legs, I can’t run and jump like everybody. She said you have a unique gift because you have a way of anything negative, of just blocking it out and concentrating on something positive,” Butler said.

“You can’t change your parents, you can’t change your colors, your skin, your religion, you have to wear hand-me-downs, it don’t bother you. She said that’s the gift.

That gift — along with a relentless drive to be the absolute best — helped Butler overcome physical struggles with his legs and feet. It helped Butler emerge from growing up poor and living in public housing and go on to star in high school at Lee, in college at Florida State and the NFL with Green Bay.

Butler said that he was able to tune out the negative comments and being picked on. Butler was so convinced that he’d make it out of his situation in a better place that he’d often tell teachers that those same bullies didn’t bother him. He was focused on two things, God and the NFL. The same kids who were bullying and picking on Butler would be asking for his autograph one day.

One week after being announced as a Pro Football Hall of Fame selection, Butler was still enjoying his new reality. After missing out in two previous attempts as a finalist, Butler was voted in on his third try.

He’s already been fitted for his gold jacket and been measured for his bust that will sit in the hall in Canton, Ohio. In some ways, it still doesn’t seem real.

While many in the area have more detailed memories of Tony Boselli, the Jaguars’ first-ever hall of fame selection, it was Butler who was born and raised in the city. The 1986 Lee High School graduate went on to star at Florida State and play his entire NFL career in Green Bay.

Butler spent 12 seasons in the NFL and was a four-time Pro Bowl selection. He had 721 tackles, 38 career interceptions and forced 13 fumbles. Butler said on Friday that Jacksonville is a place he still considers his home away from home.

“Jacksonville was a place I’d never forget because they really supported me,” he said. “And I’m just happy for the city because they can celebrate a child who was born there and an adopted child like Tony Boselli.”

He’s planning to return to the area next month for mini celebrations in the community that will honor his hall of fame selection. Butler said that he hopes to revisit some of the schools he grew up in.

Butler went to Beauclerc and R.V. Daniels elementary schools, then Douglas Anderson and Fort Caroline. He had a brief stop at Parker before going to Lee High. The latter is where he’d shine the brightest in athletics, starring for Corky Rogers on the football field before signing with Florida State.

Butler is the fourth player who played high school football in the city to make the Hall of Fame. He joins Harold Carmichael and Brian Dawkins (both Raines) and Bob Hayes (Matthew Gilbert High School) to get the gold jacket. Just over the border, Charlton County High School graduate Champ Bailey was a 2019 inductee.

Butler’s path from public housing to Super Bowl champ and now, the hall of fame, reads like a script from out of a movie.

Butler, who is credited with inventing the Packers’ iconic Lambeau Leap, couldn’t even walk upstairs when he was a kid, the result of clubbed feet from being born severely pigeon-toed.

“My story is amazing because I had some great people around me when you navigate those rough waters,” he said.

When his family got bunk beds, Butler said that he badly wanted to get on the top bunk. He couldn’t, not without help. Butler’s oldest sister, Vicki, rigged a ladder so Butler could actually climb up and be on it. Years later, he’d jump into the crowd at Lambeau Stadium. In some ways, the leap Butler is well-known for is a testimony for when he couldn’t get off the ground as a child.

Butler talked specifically about his appreciation for his teachers. He recalled a situation in third grade where he wasn’t invited to a sleepover with the rest of his classmates. Butler said his teacher was upset for him, but he took the rejection in stride. It was that gift again.

Butler said there was always a lesson to be learned in a rejection.

“Once I said, ‘I don’t care about a sleepover,’ because all these kids going to want my autograph one day when I’m playing in the NFL, she felt better about it. Instead of going out, running and jumping on the playground, she would help me read,” Butler said. “I rather you help me read because I’m going to have to read a playbook at some point. So, my teachers are a true headline in my story. I wish they all were here to experience this because I know what they would say. I’m not surprised. I am not surprised.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.