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Packers CEO, players launch annual bus tour, insist lockout won't cause awkwardness

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GREEN BAY, Wis. - With the NFL lockout in full swing, three Green Bay Packers players and the team's president will spend the next five days sharing a bus that will cover more than 1,126 kilometres as it crisscrosses Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Did somebody say awkward?

Guard Josh Sitton, linebacker Desmond Bishop and backup quarterback Matt Flynn are travelling in close quarters with president and CEO Mark Murphy on the team's sixth annual Tailgate Tour, which left from Lambeau Field on Tuesday morning. All four insisted that the ride won't be a bumpy one because of the labour strife and court fight battle between team owners and the players.

"I don't think it will be awkward at all," said Murphy, who was a union representative as a player with the Washington Redskins and is now a member of the owners' negotiating committee. "I miss the players, and to spend some time with them will be great. I'm sure we'll have some discussions about the current labour situation, but I think everybody realizes it's kind of above us all."

Murphy made no attempt to hide his intention to talk about the labour situation with the players. The lockout has been in place since March 11 except for several confusing days when it was lifted by a federal judge in a decision that has since been put on hold.

"I'm going to interact with the players. We'll have a good, open discussion," Murphy said. "Obviously with my background having been a player, having worked for the union and been a player rep, I can talk a lot about the issues. So I'm looking forward to it."

Added Bishop: "I'm sure it'll come up with Mark Murphy on the bus. We can't talk about too much, but I'm sure it'll come up. Everybody's talking about it — the entire world is talking about it. So I'm sure it'll come up."

Coach Mike McCarthy, general manager Ted Thompson and several other members of the football staff saw the bus off. McCarthy and Thompson shook hands and chatted briefly with the players, with whom they've had virtually no contact since the lockout began.

"That was a little awkward. I haven't seen 'em since the Super Bowl," said Sitton, whose position coach, offensive line coach James Campen, also came out to see the bus off. "We haven't talked for 50-some days now, so I didn't know the protocol. It was a little weird, but it's all good."

While coaches and front-office staff are banned from having contact with players, there is an exception for charitable events such as the tour.

The group planned its initial stop for Marquette, Mich., on Tuesday followed by visits to three Wisconsin cities — Ashland on Wednesday, Eau Claire on Thursday and Wausau on Friday — before returning to Green Bay on Saturday. Community events are planned at each stop, with ticket sales benefiting a previously selected charity.

"It's not going to be weird," Flynn said. "This week is for the right reasons and a good cause. That's why we came up here."

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