LeRoy Butler first connected with Green Bay Packers fans when he slipped on the green and gold back in 1990. He earned their hearts when he invented the “Lambeau Leap” and helped the Packers win the Super Bowl in 1996. Now, Butler has taken that relationship to another level by coming to the kitchens of fans and cooking for them during Packers games – and all for a great cause.
Fans can donate to Butler’s foundation, which supports anti-bullying causes, and he will prepare an entire meal for a Packers viewing party. But book soon – there aren’t many dates left.
OnMilwaukee.com caught up with Butler in Hales Corners prior to one of his regular appearances on WSSP 1250-AM’s “The Big Show” talk show.
OnMilwaukee.com: How did you come up with this idea?
LeRoy Butler: I think people know me. I try to be as personable as possible. I actually get players in trouble because (fans) think they’re like me and they’re not. I said, if I was a company, a foundation, or just a rich guy or woman and I wanted to do something special, I could have a former Packer of my caliber come in my home and cook for my 25 friends, that would be something that’s awesome.
No one is offering that. Most players don’t want to mingle like that. You’re basically trapped in somebody’s house for three hours. But, me, my chef, and my two servers and we get the food from Sendik’s. We’ve been doing it now for two or three years. Sometimes I’ll lend it out to a foundation to help them raise money. So over and above our cost they keep that amount, and that could be a pretty big amount.
OMC: What’s on the menu?
LB: I love to cook and it’s not like we do brats and hamburgers. No, we don’t do that. We do a real, meal. We do two huge beef tenderloins. We have salmon. We have handmade chicken cordon bleu. Then we do like a rice pilaf. And we do of course my world famous LeRoy Butler mac and cheese. The only thing we don’t provide is drinks and dessert. Whoever is hosting it usually does that.
When we get there, it shocks people. That’s why I put so many pictures on Twitter. People think we’re catering food. They think a truck is going to come and I’m just going to sit there, drink up all the root beer. I have my chef coat on and I’m hand making stuff. They appreciate that. Now when the game starts, you just lose your mind that LeRoy Butler is in my basement! Every commercial somebody would sit next to me and they would make a donation. It’s a fun way to raise money, especially when you have something that no one else is offering.
There’s no way I’d be able to call, like in the offseason, hey, I want to get four active players at my house at one of my barbecues and can they do the cooking? They’d be like, dude, no.
The main thing is that it’s not tailgate food. It’s five star restaurant on wheels with a Packer.
OMC: Will you accommodate allergies and people who have different dietary needs or preferences?
LB: Yeah. We had a lady who doesn’t eat fish, so we substitute the salmon for a different type of dish. We had another young lady who was gluten-free so we made her a bread pudding. We had a whole meal down. This one lady had three kids and she couldn’t get a babysitter. She tried, because it’s always adults. I said, bring ‘em, we’ll make a meal for the kids. So she was thrilled with that. We made it look really nice. We made it into animals and had some balloons and the kids had their little area and she was floored.
OMC: You’ve done a lot of fundraising, why make the effort to be this different?
LB: It’s to raise money but it’s tiresome. It’s a pain. You’ve got to think of ways to raise money. People don’t send out pledges in the mail anymore. If I could offer you something, that you’d be able to get something back that’s tax deductible, as well as a great experience for your people, I think it’s unbelievable. I think it’s been working great.
OMC: Was this idea yours alone, to make such a commitment or did someone around you suggest it?
LB: It started with me because I picked everything out that I think I’m good at. I think I’m great with people. I think I’m phenomenal with that. When you start to talk to me you forget about the Packer Hall of Fame and all that. You forget about that – he’s just a normal guy. Then, I love to cook. I’ve got two cook books. Then you throw in the brand of a former Packer. It’s almost like a win-win-win. Then, to boot, you can give money to charity. Because you’re going to give money to charity anyway, here’s a great way to do it.
LB: When I go to appearances, I love doing stuff that other players may not do. Then in 1995 when we lost to the Rams at home and people, there were 30,000 people going “Go Pack Go!” I said these people, they care about winning, but they look at the bigger picture of the branding of who you are.
That’s why I moved here. People have your back, good or bad. I said this is a great thing, to say I was at somebody’s house. It’s a step up. I do work hard being a normal guy, which I’m not, but I try to make people get past that and think about the good things we’re doing with charity. And all these people host parties all the time. All the time. What’s missing is my model of being there. I wish we could film the whole thing because it’s incredible.
I mean, you’ve got people in the corner crying. Calling. We called some lady in New Zealand, Facetime, and she was crying on the phone, “I cannot believe LeRoy Butler is in your house. I don’t believe it. I think this is a joke.” She said, “no, he’s here,” and I saw her on Facetime and she flipped out. She just flipped out. I’m like, man, that’s a good fundraiser. It’s a perfect fundraiser. It really is. It raises a lot of money but it says how great our fans really are. That’s what really shows.
OMC: Cooking for someone is a personal thing – does that add to all that bond – that you’re getting your hands dirty and making it from scratch?
LB: Absolutely. This is the biggest thing. When I get to the kitchen, I ask the wife of the home where everything is. She’s like, “Oh my God, this is so exciting, I don’t know where the pots are now.” Tell me where your spices are. Tell me where your pots are. And they get so excited because they see I care about it.
When I’m showing her the pots I like and looking for a certain strainer because I’ve got to drain the macaroni and the pasta, it just adds a whole other element, knowing that he’s here but he cares about how the food tastes. The food must be done 20 minutes before the game. It’s imperative. So we have it like that and when we did it on time, the women there just flipped out. I told guys, I said you either gotta learn how to cook or y’all gotta be in here because that’s where all the girls are going to be. And it worked out great.
OMC: Where does cooking go back to for you?
LB: It’s all my mom. My mom taught me when I was 9. She taught me how to get along with people. When I went through a bullying phase she said, “listen, ignore these people.” She explained they were stupid kids, mean kids, and you can’t get rid of ‘em so you gotta learn how deal with him. Almost like social Darwinism – I can drop you into any setting and I can teach you how to adapt to your surroundings. She taught me that as a kid.
OMC: Did your experiences with bullying lead you to start this anti-bullying campaign?
LB: I think people go through it and they suppress it because they don’t want to feel weak. There’s a lot of businessmen, millionaires now, and they were bullied their whole life and they don’t want to tell anybody because they don’t want to feel like they were weak at some point. When did my autobiography, the only reason why I left it out was because I didn’t know how important it was.
So here’s my re-do. I’ve got to put it out there now to let people know it’s alright to let people know you were bullied. I was disabled and kids thought it was funny. I made it, and they’re in jail somewhere. So what we’re trying to do is get out in front. I don’t want some kid to go put his dad’s gun in his backpack and shoot up the place. I don’t want that.
OMC: Why do you think it took you so long to come to terms with the bullying you experienced?
LB: I forgot about it until about five years ago. Something did trigger it. My nephew is autistic and I’ve got another nephew that has cerebral palsy they were just tormented bad. Bad. But when people found out they were my nephew it was, “oh, hey, we like him now.” But what they had to go through … Not forgetting about is the best thing. Talk about it. Not everybody likes talking about it. I like talking about it, but now you’ve got to do something.
OMC: You’re trying to get a Milwaukee and Wisconsin-based anti-bullying movie made, so some of the cookout proceeds are going to go to that, too?
LB: I’m excited about that. We’re raising enough money to shoot a pilot and hopefully it’s green lit. It’s expensive. I didn’t know it’s so expensive. We’re excited about it. The model for it is local but we’re hoping to take it to the United States. We’re going to create a model that you can take into any school, any church, any workplace, that if you follow this model you’ll just get rid of the bullying phase. It’s almost embarrassing to even bully anybody.
We let you see that you’re just wasting your time, just because a kid has autism, it’s not funny, when you know the effects of it and you see the results of it. We don’t want kids killing themselves or killing somebody else because of that. We put it out there on a platform for the kids to tell us their social issues, almost like a game show, where they can win.
OMC: Without naming a school or kids, can you give us an example?
LB: Here’s a great one. The school’s in Milwaukee. He’s a bigger kid. He’s 6-2. We’re talking about 10th grade. The kid he was tormenting was about 4-11, wears glasses, smaller guy. But he’s the smartest kid in the school. And he has autism. So this kid every day would just push him down, take his books and do all this crazy stuff. I talked to the principal, the social worker there and the counselors and I talked to both parents. Then we brought him in and just talked to him.
Then I showed him on a monitor – because we interviewed the kid who was being bullied first – and he started to cry saying this one guy is always bothering me and he said I really thought about ending my life. Once I showed the kid who was bullying that, he had thought it was just funny. He didn’t know that when this kid leaves school he’s wants to be home school or transfer. He just thought it was funny. Instead of playing football, I look forward to pushing him around.
Once he saw the results of that, he changed. He said, “yeah, you’re right, it’s stupid.” Now, we put them face to face, and they’re talking. I said, “I’m going to leave this room. I’ll give you 10 minutes and you need to tell me five things about him, and you need to tell me five things about him. If you get it right you both get a GS4, or you get a new iPhone. Your choice. And you both get a laptop. And you get $500 cash. But you gotta work together.” We all leave. Ten minutes they knew everything about each other. We gave them an incentive, but also let them understand how stupid this was. Now, the bully, he’s anti-bully. He’s raising money for autism. They’re best friends.
He’s brought is GPA from a 1-point-something to like a 2.8 because the kid’s his tutor. Not to mention the cool prizes. That’s kind of what we’re doing. The principal loved it because no one had ever done that before. The kids are on the platform. It’s always us – the adults talking – but we don’t know what these kids go through.
OMC: Is there a fundraising deadline for that film project?
LB: December 1 is our deadline because we want to start shooting when kids come back from New Year’s. We’re writing the script now for a skit because want the kids to be in a skit. Everybody wants to famous, so we’re going to make them famous. We don’t want kids seeing pregnant and 16 and thinking, “I want to be like that.” No. We want them to see the social problems of today, put them out there and create a movie about it and put the kids in the movie.
OMC: Back to the cooking – you mentioned how some players would never open themselves up to fans like this. Do your former teammates, or current Packers, think you’re crazy?
LB: Oh yeah.Literally guys will be like, dude, no, no way could I do that in people’s houses. They don’t wan to sit there with people they don’t know for three and a half hours. I love doing it because the game distracts you. The people know not to talk to you during the game. Sometimes. But it’s not like you’re sitting around with people in a circle and you stare at each other. We’ve got stuff going on. We got food going on in. If I didn’t love cooking I probably wouldn’t do it. That gives me something to do.
OMC: OK – I know it’s for charity – but there has to be something that has blown your mind that happened at one of these things.
LB: I don’t drink wine, but I had a guy last year for a game, he chartered a flight to California to get a special bottle of wine that he had to have for this party. His wife said he chartered a flight for almost $8,000. He had some guys coming over and it was a certain type of wine that he had to have and he had to have these certain cigars. I guess the cigar place was in San Fernando Valley. He had to have it. And when he found out I didn’t drink or smoke he was heartbroken! But, in a fun way. He wanted to impress me. The wine was like $3,200 or something. He spent a lot of money. But his friends, they were like man, thank you very much!
They only made five bottles a year and he was like I’m going to get it. They all sat out on the balcony before the game and they cut the cigars and shaking their wine and he says, “I can’t believe I’m having a party with LeRoy Butler.” He said that about 50 times. His wife said he had talked about getting that wine ever since they got the game. That blew my mind. I said I may be a celebrity for real. This is crazy. She said he would do that for nobody!