For too long, we’ve ignored the red flags behind the “smart jock” act.
Illustration: Aaron Rodgers is depicted wearing a tinfoil hat, surrounded by airplane chemtrails and sperm. Illustration by Rachal Duggan.
Way back in 2016, a certain disgraced former president infamously said he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone” without losing any support. For more than a decade, the same could be said of Aaron Rodgers and the state of Wisconsin.
When the Green Bay Packers scooped up the quarterback late in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft, many questioned whether the young Californian could possibly replace the aging-yet-generationally talented Brett Favre. But over the next 15 years, Rodgers proved those who passed over him wrong, winning three league MVPs and one Super Bowl, and carving his name into league history one impossible Hail Mary at a time.
It would take a lot for Rodgers to squander the goodwill he’s spent 16 years building amongst the green-and-gold faithful. But he wouldn’t be Aaron Rodgers if he didn’t give it his all to do so.
On November 3, reports came out that Rodgers would miss the Packers’ upcoming game against the Kansas City Chiefs following a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. Shortly thereafter, it emerged that Rodgers was unvaccinated, despite telling reporters he was “immunized” back in August. Worse yet, Rodgers would melt down on former Colts punter Pat McAfee’s radio show after being called out on his obfuscation, blaming the “woke mob” for overreacting. (In the same interview, Rodgers copped to both soliciting medical advice from Joe Rogan and taking ivermectin, all while wearing a t-shirt with a guy who famously died of a respiratory disease on it.)
It’s the latest and most damning example of something many Packer fans—myself included—have spent the past few years considering: underneath all the posturing and antics, is Aaron Rodgers actually an irredeemable human being?
Obviously, not on the field. If we’re talking about his football talent alone, Rodgers is more or less untouchable. I’ll concede that. But there’s a certain cognitive disconnect amongst sports fans where you can easily separate the player from the person. The annals of sports history are full of awful men. For example, Rodgers’ predecessor Favre was one of my childhood idols, but it wasn’t until I read Jeff Pearlman’s bio Gunslinger as an adult that I realized that, actually, he’s kind of a piece of shit. Great football player, real dud of a guy.
But Favre never tried to convince fans he was anything other than a golly-gee-shucks rube. His largely improvised style of play came from his inability to read playbooks, after all. Rodgers, on the other hand, has always gone out of his way to project an image of himself as being smart and virtuous. He’s savvy and telegenic. He runs a book club and listens to Bon Iver. In 2015, Rodgers won Celebrity Jeopardy!, beating out former astronaut and current U.S. Senator Mark Kelly. He even got to host the show in the wake of Alex Trebek’s death.
In fact, Rodgers has played his self-styled “smart jock” role so well that a lot of fans have either looked past or entirely missed all the red flags he’s thrown out in the past few years. His vaccination lie just made them impossible to ignore.
Like, did you know he’s a chemtrails conspiracy guy? Because he definitely is, as per his former backup Seneca Wallace. And speaking of, Rodgers has a history of alienating not just teammates but his entire family over the pettiest of grievances. Instead, he pals around with towering assholes like Miles Teller and Dave Portnoy. Or take his “support” for Colin Kaepernick, in which Rodgers was bright enough to understand the issue but still chose to stand for the anthem “because that’s the way I feel about the flag.”
Evidence of Rodgers’ milquetoast suckitude has always been there, and we as fans have let him get away with a lot of self-congratulatory, cringey, and childish bullshit over the years, ostensibly because none of his hiccups have been as bad as, say, Michael Vick. But how far are you willing to go for a guy who clearly doesn’t give a fuck about even his own teammates?
Still, the thing that continues to blow my mind is Rodgers’ decision to lie about his vaccination status. Some of the NFL’s brightest stars haven’t gotten the jab and probably won’t. Likewise, the NFL’s approach to most scandals is “pretend it’s not there,” so Rodgers likely would have been safe in that regard too. But Rodgers is so concerned about people perceiving him as thoughtful and intelligent that his response is to treat those same people like suckers. And he’s rightfully been excoriated by everyone with even a passing interest in the game. On the November 7 edition of Fox NFL Sunday, broadcaster Howie Long laid it bare.
“It ceases to be a personal decision when you take part in being a part of a football team in a building with coaches, players, trainers… and you risk taking something home to your wife, children, grandchildren,” said Long, who is also a Hall of Famer. “Possibly putting your teammates in jeopardy is selfish.”
And that’s exactly what Aaron Rodgers is, and likely has always been: selfish. In recent years especially, Rodgers’ own celebrity seems to be his number one concern. It’s clear he doesn’t plan on sticking around in Green Bay much longer. But as long as he can go somewhere else and be the self-defined “critical thinker” at the center of everything, it doesn’t matter. And unfortunately, it won’t.
The NFL has never shown an inclination to be on the right side of anything, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Rodgers will be under center somewhere next year. I’d bet that most Packers fans will be willing to forgive him for his obfuscation the next time he runs a brilliant two-minute drill. (Especially after his successor Jordan Love’s shaky debut against the Chiefs, a game the Pack lost 13-7.)
But no amount of stellar play or pithy TV commercials will change the fact that it’s long past time for Aaron Rodgers to discount double-check his fucking ego before he gets someone killed.
There’s more where this came from.
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