Aaron Rodgers the starting QB for the unvaccinated
You can trust Aaron Rodgers only to do what’s good for Aaron Rodgers. On a football field, his independence can be tolerated, and often preferred because few quarterbacks have ever played the game as divinely as he can. For 17 seasons, the Green Bay Packers have benefited from Rodgers doing things his way because his way keeps them at a level hard to maintain in the parity-driven NFL.
This does not make him trustworthy, however. The Packers can trust his talent and stretch the definition of team to accommodate a player so stubborn and extraordinary. But they cannot trust him, not on matters that require deference or social responsibility or faith in anything other than his big ol’ ego.
No one can trust Rodgers to be more than what we have allowed him to become: a superstar in love with himself. Greatness has long been his shield. Now, as he uses it to plough through the saddest controversy of his career, it should be clear why Green Bay are wary of riding on his back for much longer.
Rodgers — sometimes charming, often patronising, always selfish — has caved to expectation for a change. On Friday, he provided what many had demanded all week after he was exposed for misleading the public about his Covid-19 vaccination status: an explanation.
He should have kept his mouth shut.
“I realise I’m in the crosshairs of the woke mob right now,” Rodgers said during his regular appearance on The Pat McAfee Show. “So before my final nail gets put in my cancel culture casket, I think I would like to set the record straight on so many of the blatant lies that are out there about myself.”
When a preamble uses “woke mob” and “cancel culture” as a throat-clearing exercise, buckle up.
Rodgers proceeded to paint himself as a victim. Instead of limiting his argument to a legitimate concern — he said he could not take either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines because he is allergic to an ingredient in them and also shared concerns that many have about the Johnson & Johnson shot — Rodgers drifted into conspiracy theories and tired, facile anti-vaccine opinions.
“I go back to these two questions for the woke mob,” Rodgers said. “If the vaccine is so great, how come people are still getting Covid and spreading Covid and unfortunately dying from Covid? If the vax is safe, how come the manufacturers of the vaccine have full immunity?”
His comments included a revelation that he had taken ivermectin, the anti-parasitic used for large animals and dismissed as an effective Covid-19 treatment by the Food and Drug Administration. So the former guest host of Jeopardy! is now mangling facts.
“I’m not some sort of anti-vax flat earther,” Rodgers insisted. “I’m somebody who’s a critical thinker. I march to the beat of my own drum. I believe strongly in bodily autonomy.”
This interview is now for ever a part of Rodgers’s tale. He’s now the defiant starting quarterback of the anti-vax squad, and even though there is a large group that thinks like him, this is not good for his legacy. His stance illustrates the selfishness that will make his inevitable departure from Green Bay as much on him as on the franchise. Rodgers has always existed in his own world. This just reveals how deep he has retreated into himself.
In a pandemic that has killed more than 750,000 Americans, Rodgers is unwilling to abandon his recalcitrance and think about the team. He didn’t care enough about the Packers to follow the NFL protocols for unvaccinated personnel because he didn’t believe in them. He doesn’t care enough about everyone else to trust facts because he doesn’t agree with them.
He is Aaron Rodgers, and being Aaron Rodgers has gotten him this far, to the doorstep of the Hall of Fame. He has done so by making up plays in the huddle to win play-off games and doing anything else he pleases. So how dare you persecute him for being the most brilliant of them all?
“The great MLK said, ʽYou have a moral obligation to object to unjust rules and rules that make no sense’,” Rodgers said, straining to use the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr to justify his decisions.
Talent has afforded him tremendous autonomy in both football and this star-obsessed world. Independence is a nuanced concept in team sport, but the flexibility in understanding it is important, and in this era, athletes are fighting hard for more of it. But Rodgers is the latest example of how many fail to grasp the responsibility that comes with such freedom.
As a superstar who can make almost any roster competitive, he has shown a special gift for adaptability on the field. But Rodgers can do so because his skills are vast, not because his mind is open. Before this controversy, the Packers had not merely grown annoyed with him; they had become enlightened after years of working with him. Rodgers is only inclined to do it his way, and he barely has any consideration for any other way. No matter how great he is, that is not sustainable for a franchise.
His beef with Green Bay isn’t about the Packers drafting Jordan Love or sticking with general manager Brian Gutekunst. It’s about feeling like he is losing control. Just the same, his vaccine apprehension isn’t about all this next-level research he claims to have done. It’s about staying loyal to the one thing that has always worked for him: resistance. He comes across as so cool and unbothered. In reality, he is as rigid as it gets.
He would rather turn to horse medication than trust conventional science. Rodgers does not fear being wrong, but he cannot stand someone else being right.
“The Right is going to champion me, and the Left is going to cancel me,” Rodgers said of the politicisation of his vaccination stance. “I don't give a F**k about either of them."
On so many levels, Rodgers simply does not care. Inside the great quarterback is a grating human being.
• Jerry Brewer is a sports columnist at The Washington Post. He joined the Post in 2015 after more than eight years as a columnist with the Seattle Times