Former UVa. standout, NFL veteran talks politics, civic engagement at WHS
Story by Chris Graham
Without football pads, wearing dress slacks and a light blue Oxford, no tie, Brad Butler could have passed for the high-school government teacher that he basically was for an hour at Waynesboro High School Thursday afternoon.
Which isn’t to say that the University of Virginia alum hadn’t been prepared by the NFL for the worst that the teens in the audience were capable of giving him.
“I play for the Buffalo Bills, and we have some pretty tough fans. I’ve heard just about everything in the book, so I’m not above being confrontational,” said Butler, a four-year NFL veteran in the fall and early winter, and a politico the rest of the year.
Butler’s visit to WHS was sponsored by the University of Virginia Center for Politics. Butler, a 2006 UVa. graduate and four-year starter at right tackle, interned at the Center for Politics, and learned the way of famed UVa. political-science professor Larry Sabato well. The message he scrawled on a flip chart at the front of the room relayed Sabato’s “Politics Is A Good Thing” mantra, and Butler told his personal story to try to relate to the teens how an informed and involved populace can make for good politics, good government and a good country.
Former UVa. standout Brad Butler at WHS (6:07)
Butler talked about how he connected after his rookie season in Buffalo with former Bills quarterback and former Republican congressman and 1996 vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp and ended up interning in Kemp’s Washington office. And his interest in civic affairs dates to high school, when he wrote letters to the editor of his hometown newspaper on political issues.
“It can be something as simple as, your mom has cancer, and you want to get involved in efforts to fund research. It’s just about finding something that is important to you, reading up on the topic, getting involved, and trying to make a difference,” Butler said.
Butler took questions from the students after his talk, and of course the first involved his celebrity teammate, wide receiver Terrell Owens. Butler said behind the flash that is T.O. is a “lot of hard work.” “He’s the hardest-working player that I know. That’s what makes all the crazy stuff he does when he scores touchdowns possible. You see the antics, but you don’t see the hard work that goes into making him who he is out there on the field,” Butler said.
Another question about playing against the Dallas Cowboys brought another life lesson. The Bills lost a memorable Monday Nighter in 2007 that had the Cowboys roaring back from a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter. The reality of life in the NFL is that you have to put those kinds of losses behind you quickly, “or you’re not going to prepare well for the next game, and the next thing you know, you’re going to put up another loss because you weren’t able to get focused on what you needed to do.”
Butler said afterward that he was sad to see Al Groh let go as the head coach at his alma mater, “but of all the possible coaches they could have hired, Mike London was the best fit.”
“I think he’ll do well,” said Butler, who played at UVa. while London was on staff as an assistant. “The one word I’ll use for him is he’s a recruiter, and that’s something that UVa. has had as a handicap, because we do have higher academic reqiuremets than other schools. By having him be able to go into areas like Tidewater to recruit athletes will hopefully help turn the tide at UVa.”
Butler’s NFL team is also going through a transition, with former Cowboys and Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey in as the new head man in place of interim coach Perry Fewell, who replaced Dick Jauron after Jauron was let go in November following a 3-6 start.
“I’ve heard nothing about good things about the guy, that he’s a man of high character. But at the same time, the NFL is ultimately about winning games, and it’s a business. Hopefuilly he can come in there and turn the tide and get us into the playoffs,” Butler said.
“It’s a tough challenge, because in the AFC East, you’re talking about three teams that have been in the playoffs the past two years with the Patriots, the Jets and the Dolphins. They’re all very talented, and we’re going to have a lot of improving to do if we hope the turn the tide up there in Buffalo,” Butler said.