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A Surprising Way The Pandemic Is Affecting Sports: Packers Limit What Beat Writers Can Report From Camp

Green Bay Is Scheduled To Open The Season Sept. 13 Against The Vikings

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Lambeau Field at night
Lambeau Field at night before the Green Bay Packers played the Chicago Bears in an NFL football game November 9, 2014, in Green Bay. Andy Manis/AP Photo

The Green Bay Packers announced last month there’d be no fans at training camp amid the coronavirus pandemic. And now that camp is underway, the Packers have introduced another change aimed at giving them a leg up this fall.

This year, credentialed reporters aren’t allowed to make predictions on the team’s depth chart or reveal which players appear to be starters or backups, according to several Packers beat writers.

The change comes after the NFL gave teams more leeway to set their own rules with reporters this offseason. Since all training camps are closed to the public and there are no preseason games, some teams are trying to fly under the radar when it comes to personnel decisions.

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“So [the] rationale here is that other teams are at a competitive advantage when they can see information that we are sharing on social media or that we’re reporting, especially when it relates to the depth chart,” said Olivia Reiner, who covers the Packers for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Brian Gutekunst, general manage for the Packers, said he was ultimately responsible for making the move, which is meant to be temporary. It came down to how other teams were approaching the offseason, he said.

“Without 8,000 people at practice and four preseason games, I just thought we were at a little bit of a disadvantage and kind of wanted to equal the playing field,” he said.

Gutekunst said he’s not sure whether the Packers would make decisions based on reports from local media covering other teams, but he didn’t rule it out.

That’s a big change from the typical rhetoric, Reiner said.

“We’re told all the time, ‘We don’t pay attention to what the media is saying about our team and about so on and so forth. We’re just focusing on what we can do in this building,’ and then they turn around and say, ‘Well maybe or maybe not,’” she said.

Reporters can talk about the outcomes of specific plays at training camp, but not connect the dots in terms of how those outcomes could ultimately impact the roster, she said.

According to Packers News, not every team is taking such a strict stance, and the decision by the Packers has gotten mixed reviews from fans. Reiner’s colleague Jim Owczarski joked about it Thursday on social media while covering camp: “Aaron Rodgers is gesturing to a group of men huddled around him, seemingly instructing them to move in a coordinated fashion after he indicates they should begin doing so,” he Tweeted.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot about her job so far this season, Reiner said. As a safety precaution, interviews are conducted over Zoom. It’s not the same as being able to speak to any player in the locker room, she said.

On the field, training camp looks about the same as most years, but the bleachers aren’t full of fans, she said. Today the team practiced at Lambeau Field, piping in crowd noise.

Green Bay’s moratorium on fans extends beyond training camp. The Packers already announced there will be no fans for at least the first two home games at Lambeau. Still, Gutekunst thinks teams across the league will continue to have a home field advantage.

“Just because different surfaces, different ways the field plays, the way the wind blows in each stadium, there’ll always be a little bit of that,” he said. “Certainly nothing like having 80,000 at Lambeau.”

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