As someone who has spent the better part of six decades watching way, way too many sporting events, you’d think by now I would’ve learned to avoid the perils of hero worship. It doesn’t matter what sport your favorite athlete plays—football, baseball, basketball, hockey, boxing, mixed martial arts, rodeo, motorsports—put them on too high of a pedestal and sooner or later they’re gonna knock themselves right off of it.
So, I’m embarrassed to admit Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who got caught lying to the public about his unvaccinated status after contracting COVID-19 last week, is just the latest sports celebrity to fool me yet again.
The three-time NFL MVP is one of the most popular players in the league, with a pleasing public persona that serves him well whether he’s pitching the “Rodger’s rate” on State Farm insurance commercials or gunning to replace late Jeopardy host Alex Trebek on the iconic quiz show. A smart player on and off the field, Rodgers seemed a relative Renaissance man compared to your average brain-contused NFL player.
In addition, Rodgers is a Chico native with deep ties to northern California, where he was a gridiron standout at Pleasant Valley High School, Butte College in Oroville and UC Berkeley. For many northern Californians, including myself, rooting for the Rodgers-led Packers is like rooting for the home team. The Pack are my go-to squad when the San Francisco 49ers are flailing, which has been entirely too often of late.
Nobody enjoys seeing their hometown hero destroyed on the national stage, and that’s exactly what happed to Rodgers last week when he was forced to admit he hadn’t been entirely truthful last August when he told the press he had been “immunized” when asked if he’d been vaccinated against COVID-19.
In fact, the 2011 Super Bowl-winning quarterback hasn’t been vaccinated at all. The NFL, which was aware of Rodger’s status, requires unvaccinated players to wear a mask during press conferences. Halfway through the season, Rodgers has yet to don a mask at a press conference.
“You lied to everyone,” former Pittsburg Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw hissed to a nationwide FOX Sports audience last Sunday. In his Substack column, former Los Angeles Laker center and legendary sports statesman Kareem Abdul-Jabbar accused Rodgers of lying and bringing “back to life the old stereotype of the big dumb jock.” Radio shock jock Howard Stern called Rodgers a “fucking liar” who should be kicked out of the NFL.
These harsh reactions came after Rodgers appeared on The Pat McAfee Show to defend lying about his unvaccinated status on the friendly turf of the former NFL punter’s radio program. Rather than present an eloquent defense based on science—like you might expect from someone who yearns to host Jeopardy—Rodgers proceeded to demonstrate that anyone can be influenced by COVID-19 misinformation, even a three-time first-team All Pro quarterback.
“I realize I’m in the crosshairs of the woke mob right now,” a belligerent Rodgers began the radio broadcast. “So, before my final nail gets put in my cancel culture casket, I think I’d like to set the record straight on so many of the blatant lies that are out there about myself right now.”
If that was the plan, Rodgers immediately went off script, like one of his signature broken plays on the field, without completing the hail Mary pass.
He denied he had lied about his unvaccinated status and claimed he wasn’t some “anti-vax flat-earther.” He then proceeded to undermine this claim throughout the broadcast, admitting that he’d consulted non-physician podcaster Joe Rogan for medical advice and taken a course of monoclonal antibodies and ivermectin to treat his COVID-19.
The former treatment is expensive and difficult to access unless you’re Rodgers- or Rogan-rich; the latter medication is not authorized to treat COVID-19 in the United States because the studies done so far have shown it’s ineffective. Rodgers claimed research scientists are discouraging ivermectin for COVID-19 because former President Donald Trump recommends it.
Last spring, Rodgers applied for a vaccination exemption from the NFL, paying his own medical/research team to come up with a custom homeopathic treatment program designed to boost his immune system. He claimed it was the equivalent to being vaccinated; the league disagreed. Although Rodgers claims he’s allergic to an ingredient in the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines—an extremely rare occurrence—he was not granted a medical exemption.
“You guys know me,” Rodgers said to his radio hosts. “I march to the beat of my own drum. I believe strongly in bodily autonomy and the ability to make choices for your body, not to have to acquiesce to some woke culture or crazed group of individuals who say you have to do something. Health is not a one size fits all for everybody. And for me, it involved a lot of study in the off season, much like the study I put into hosting Jeopardy or the weekly study I put into plan in the game.”
Uh-oh. He’s doing his own research.
For Rodgers, “woke culture or crazed group of individuals” is apparently synonymous with mainstream medical science regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. He suggests masks don’t work and the pandemic of the unvaccinated that’s pushed U.S. COVID-19 deaths to the three-quarter million mark is a hoax. He grotesquely extends Martin Luther King’s moral obligation to disobey unjust laws to include “rules that don’t make sense” to Aaron Rodgers.
You can read the same sort of jive on the Herman Cain Award subreddit, where flat-earth anti-vaxxers go to graze before meeting their demise from COVID-19.
One of the rules that doesn’t make sense to Rodgers is the league’s requirement for unvaccinated players to wear a mask during press conferences. He claims he follows all of the league’s extensive protocols for unvaccinated players, which include daily testing, mandated mask usage in the gym and extensive travel and movement restrictions, all of them, except this one rule.
In his view, if he has tested negative and the reporters are masked and vaccinated, requiring him to wear a mask is “not based on science.”
In fact, because vaccines don’t provide 100 percent protection from COVID-19, the NFL’s mask mandate for reporters and unvaccinated players during indoor press conferences provides another science-based layer of protection in cramped stadium interview rooms that don’t necessarily have the best ventilation.
It’s possible Rodgers may be confused because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prematurely lifted the mask usage requirement for vaccinated individuals indoors in May, before the prevalence of breakthrough infections among the vaccinated was more widely known. The CDC has since reinstated the mask recommendation for vaccinated individuals indoors under certain conditions.
Missing throughout the athlete’s 40-minute self-described diatribe is any sense of empathy for the 47 million Americans who have contracted COVID-19 and the 759,000 who have died since the pandemic began last year. Listening to Rodgers is like falling into a black hole of solipsism where any sense of humanity comes to a halt when you cross the event horizon. Empathy cannot escape under such conditions.
Strangest of all, Rodgers, who has played team sports virtually his entire life, isn’t much of a team player when it comes to COVID-19, which, after all, requires a collective response from all of us if we’re going to move beyond the pandemic. He’s more concerned about being outed as unvaccinated than stopping the spread of the virus. He thinks the league’s entire approach to COVID-19 is bunk propaganda.
“If you weren’t in the vaccinated category, you were in a different category,” he said, “which involved some draconian measures and protocols that you would have to adhere to, which, in my opinion, were not based on science, were more based in a shame-based environment to try and get as many guys to get vaccinated as possible so that the league looks better to the rest of the world.”
Rodgers was slightly less recalcitrant on a subsequent appearance on the Pat McAfee Show last Tuesday. He was careful to mention—twice!—that he “empathizes” with those who’ve died from COVID-19 or had their lives and businesses disrupted by the virus. Unfortunately, his attempted mea culpa stopped far short of a full-fledged apology.
“I shared an opinion that was polarizing, and I misled some people about my status, and I take full responsibility for that,” Rodgers said as he concluded the broadcast.
Have you noticed almost no one says they’re sorry for anything nowadays?
So far, taking “full responsibility” for Rodgers has included being dumped as ad pitchman by Wisconsin health care provider Prevea Health after a nine-year relationship and a $14,650 fine from the NFL for breaking the league’s COVID-19 protocols. The Packers organization, which like the league was aware of Rodgers’s rule-breaking all along, was fined $300,000 by the NFL.
For the record, the star quarterback’s latest four-year contract is worth $134 million.
So, there’s no need to worry about Mr. Rodgers’ future. His cancel culture casket won’t be nailed shut by the woke mob any time soon. After a 10-day mandatory quarantine, he becomes eligible to play again this Saturday if he tests negative. If he does test negative, he’ll almost undoubtedly take the field against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
In a certain sense, the lies of Aaron Rodgers are smaller in scale compared to the lies told by other sporting figures involved in major controversies. Think of all the athletes who’ve allegedly lied about using steroids and other performance enhancing drugs.
Cyclist Lance Armstrong, stripped of seven Tour de France titles. Major League Baseball stars Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, considered among the best players of their era, may never make the Hall of Fame because of their association with PEDs. Such lies were daggers shoved straight in the hearts of their respective sports, severing the trust between athlete and sports fan.
That’s not necessarily the same case with Aaron Rodgers. We know a sizeable number of his fans, including those in northern California, have also done their own research and come to similar misinformed, dangerous conclusions about the COVID-19 pandemic. To them, Rodgers did nothing wrong. Even lying about his unvaccinated status and potentially endangering his teammates and others around him is OK with them.
Lying is not OK, of course, and there’s entirely too much of it going around these days. Not a single elected Republican politician in northern California has publicly denounced former President Donald Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him. They’ve been cowed into inaction by a small but vocal Christofascist anti-vax base that believes Trump is their King Cyrus and COVID-19 is a hoax.
One unfortunate result of acquiescing to these lies? COVID-19 will soon claim its 400th life in Shasta County.
I wasn’t expecting Aaron Rodgers to improve this state of affairs, but I sure as hell wasn’t expecting him to make it worse. That’s exactly what he’s done with two failed, lame responses to his deceptions. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is right.
Aaron Rodgers is in danger of becoming just another big dumb jock.
It’s a shame, because he could be so much more.