Will the Green Bay Packers Give Johnny Jolly a Second Chance?


Johnny Jolly was at the top of his game when his life spiraled out of control.

Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Often those who have shined the brightest have come to understand that there is no greater education than adversity – just ask Johnny Jolly who is asking for absolution from the Green Bay Packers.

Three years after being suspended indefinitely by Roger Goodell for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, Jolly has been reinstated by the league. Jolly, as many know, had a number of problems with the law as a result of an addiction to codeine. With the reinstatement, Jolly was awarded a second chance, the ability to rekindle an NFL career that seemed to be very much on the rise.

Johnny Jolly with former Packer Aaron Kampman await the start of play during a 2009 game at Lambeau Field.

Raymond T. Rivard photograh

At 6-3 and 310 pounds, Jolly was positioning himself to become the anchor of the Packers defensive line. In his first and only season in Dom Capers’ 3-4 defensive scheme Jolly tallied 24 tackles, one sack and 10 passes defended, including an interception that put his athleticism on full display. His length, ability to take up space and absorb blockers, coupled with speed and quickness, exceptional for a man his size, made him an ideal fit for the Packers’ defense.

His talent and untapped potential made it particularly frustrating for Packers Nation when Jolly’s legal troubles began to mount, ultimately resulting in the indefinite suspension and a prison sentence. Jolly was arrested four different times on drug possession charges. In November 2011, Jolly was sentenced to six years in a Texas prison. However, after serving just six months he was released and put on “shock probation” for the next decade.

With the shock probation Jolly caught a break. This was an opportunity to, first and foremost, get his life in order and secondly, the ability to resurrect his sidetracked career in the NFL. The Packers retain his rights and will need to decide if they will invite Johnny Jolly back into the Packers family.

A November 2011 ESPN Outside the Lines episode well documented Jolly’s troubles, a result of an addiction to prescription cough syrup, prometh with codeine. A beverage mixed with Sprite and Jolly Ranchers to create an opiate-laced concoction that was fashionable with the Houston Texas rap community in the 1990s. What began as recreational drug use ultimately spiraled out of control into full-fledge addiction that turned Jolly’s world upside down.

Within the Packers fan base there seems to be mixed emotions regarding bringing Jolly back to the Packers. From a practical perspective, Jolly has been out of football for three seasons. One would assume he is a bit rusty. However, a quick surf of the Web will direct you to blogs and tweets that reveal another sentiment in which Packer fans are more jaded and view Jolly as a criminal who doesn’t deserve another chance in Packers News.

It is true Johnny Jolly is a criminal. But his illicit behavior is a result of an opiate addiction. It is also true that this addiction stems from poor choices Jolly made to recreate with the codeine-laced beverage often known by the name “Purple Drank.” However, it should also be considered that Jolly is a high profile person whose struggle is illuminated in the limelight of NFL stardom.

Opiate addiction in the United States is a real problem. Jolly is one of millions who are struggling with an opiate addiction. It is estimated that nearly 30 million people or 10 percent of the population have used opiate-based pain medicine for non-medicinal reasons. Jolly, like numerous others in the United States, can recover from this addiction and be a contributor to society.

Jolly celebrates following a big play for the Packers.

Another thing to consider is Jolly is not the first member of the Packers family to struggle with an opiate addiction. In February 1996, Packers MVP quarterback Brett Favre slipped into a violent seizure following a surgery to remove a bone spur and chips from his ankle. Doctors said the seizure could have been attributed to his addiction to Vicodin, a narcotic analgesic painkiller.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated reported in a May 27, 1996, article that Favre said he quit using Vicodin cold-turkey after the seizure.  Favre’s opiate addiction was not a minor problem. King also reported that Favre checked into rehab willingly in accordance to NFL policy but was not initially thrilled with the idea. Favre ultimately was very open about his addiction.

In an October 2011 radio interview, Aaron Rodgers told ESPN Milwaukee radio host Jason Wilde that he felt the NFL shouldered some of the blame for Jolly’s continued struggle with addiction. Rodgers expressed concern about taking a person like Jolly away from his support system. Although Favre was eventually much more forthcoming about his addiction it seems he received a little different treatment from the NFL than did Jolly. It appears where Favre was assisted by the NFL, Jolly was subsequently exiled. But maybe there is more to Johnny Jolly’s story than we know.

If Jolly is sincere about his quest to return to football and most importantly a life apart from getting high on codeine he most certainly should get a second chance with the Packers.

A successful return by Jolly to the Packers and the NFL is good for everyone. If able to shake the rust, Jolly could be a big addition to the Packers’ defensive line. Even more important, Johnny Jolly can be a shining example of someone who overcame adversity and succeeded.

He doesn’t deserve this chance, he is worth the chance. And if he is genuine and committed, he earned the chance.