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News of Ted Thompson’s health brings more questions, but the answers can’t be assumed

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It is fair to wonder about how a nerve disorder affected Ted Thompson’s ability to serve as Packers GM, when he and the team knew something was wrong, and if something should have been done sooner. But we can’t assume anything.

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Ted Thompson’s health has been the center of speculation among Packers fans for years.
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The jokes about Ted Thompson’s diminishing health were never funny. While it’s true he’s a public figure and his ability to effectively do his job falls under the realm of reasonably asked questions, making light of a person’s mental capacity with dementia jokes is about as loathsome as it gets. Let’s not compare one to the other.

With the news of Thompson’s condition, an autonomic disorder, questions naturally arise: when did these symptoms begin? Did they affect his ability to do his job and if so how? Who picked up the slack if he had the capacity for a smaller workload? And should the Packers have acted sooner in discussing his eventual replacement?

It’s the job of beat reporters and Packers media to ask these questions and fans have a right to know as well, even in matters as sensitive as someone’s health.

But any preening blowhards on Twitter doing a victory lap, pointing to this condition as definitive proof of Thompson’s demise and the feckless inaction of the team, ought to pump their brakes (not to mention take stock of whether that’s a good look for them as a person).

In an effort to be first to be “right,” we are railroading the truth in search of the hottest take. And the truth is we don’t really know much at all. Anything beyond “Ted was sick enough in 2017 to have a discussion with Mark Murphy about his future with the team,” comes as speculation in terms of the affect Thompson’s health had on his ability to do his job.

Being sick enough to step down in 2017 is not proof past failings were because of his health. Drafting is hard and most teams fail at it consistently. John Schneider had an all-time draft run and now can’t seem to find or keep cornerstone players. Blips like the 2015 draft happen. This announcement isn’t proof that Thompson’s perceived loss of fastball velocity comes as a result of this condition.

We don’t know that.

What we know is the Packers have had the best front office infrastructure in the sport for years. We also know the last few offseasons from Ted Thompson featured a flurry of free agent signings and some aggressive draft posturing with trades. Was this a result of Brian Gutekunst’s or Mark Murphy’s hands on the wheel? Russ Ball’s? Eliot Wolf’s?

These are reasonable questions to ask, even necessary ones. But we can’t take for granted their answers simply because at some point in the future Thompson had to step down.

Too much of this seems to come from limited reporting and the propensity to play body language doctor. Whispers about health problems aren’t new surrounding Thompson, even if they’re often ghoulish and/or bizarre. Thompson, more than most GMs, took a very active role earlier in his career when it came to scouting, insisting on a boots-on-the-ground approach that waned in recent years.

Was that due to his deteriorating health, or because guys like Alonzo Highsmith, Wolf, and Gutekunst became such trusted lieutenants? The truth may lie somewhere in a shade of gray.

Knowing now he was sick and that the illness ultimately led to his resignation—though an agreed upon one—doesn’t actually answer these questions. If anything, it leads to more, confirming what many have speculated on for years. Being right about that speculation doesn’t, then, allow one to speculate further. A broken clock is right twice a day — a rate some talking heads and Twitter trolls would love to crack.

Perhaps the most pressing question for journalists is the role the Packers as an organization play here. It strikes me as a little macabre to even type this, but should Green Bay have acted sooner? This one seems to be a little more easily answered.

In every walk of life, people continue to work through illness. We often laud them for it. In sports, we simply want to know about the results, absent the human empathy part. Adults are trusted every day to decide if they’re capable of completing their professional tasks based on their help. If you can’t come in to work because you’re sick? You call in. This isn’t 5th grade where mommy or daddy need to give you a note.

Ted Thompson earned the trust of the organization to say, “I can do this,” even if it meant working a little less and trusting the people around him a little more. We know how great the people around him are and we’re getting glimpses of how good we think Brian Gutekunst is. The Browns clearly loved his staff enough to recreate it a couple hundred miles to the East.

Thompson earned the right to say when he felt he could no longer do the job. He was trusted, as millions are every day, to know his capabilities better than anyone else. Unless we get information about clear warning signs missed by the team, ones beyond just “well, the 2015 draft was bad,” we don’t really have clear evidence to suggest the Packers should have acted sooner in making this move.

It’s still fair to ask that question, but not to assume it without evidence.

We’ll likely never know the truth. It’s unlikely even Thompson himself could offer an honest assessment of whether or not his health was deleterious to his ability to do his job. We know him to be a fierce competitor, but it’s hard for anyone to make those kinds of determinations about themselves with clear eyes.

Questions about timing should only be relevant to discussions about how chain of command changed, how responsibilities where shifted and for how long that went on. On the other hand, those are important ideas the Packers should be willing to explain. For a publicly owned team, they have to answer to the fans on this even if shareholders aren’t traditional ones.

If discussing an aging person’s deteriorating health makes you feel icky, you aren’t alone. If it doesn’t, think about why that is. Unfortunately though, there are potential repercussions to this news that extend into the football realm. There are answers worth seeking. But that’s not the same as making assumptions. That difference matters, not simply materially for this discussion, but also to keep in mind the humanity of why we’re having it in the first place.