When word reached the NFL channel of the TGS Slack on Wednesday that Aaron Rodgers had tested positive for COVID-19, I was frustrated. The Green Bay Packers have been besieged by virus issues lately, losing Davante Adams to a positive test and Allen Lazard as an unvaccinated close contact for the game last week against the Arizona Cardinals. Little did I know how much worse it would get!
Next came reports that Rodgers was automatically out for 10 days because he’s unvaccinated. That didn’t make sense to a lot of people, myself included, because in August he told reporters that he was vaccinated. It turns out, this is actually what was said:
Reporter: Are you vaccinated and what’s your status on vaccination?
Rodgers: Yeah, I’ve been immunized.
Some might call that cagey; I call it a straight-up lie. I suspect most people would too if they asked a child if they ate their vegetables and the child replied, “Yeah, the vegetables are gone,” when they actually fed them to the dog. No parent says, “Well damn, technically they got me!” You and I and everyone willing to set aside bias know that the intent is to deceive. Rodgers, a guy famously known for being careful and intentional with his choice of words, knew the reporters in the room would hear “Yeah” in response to a question about vaccination and probably not think too hard about the fact that he switched “vaccinated” for “immunized.”
Rodgers went on to say, “There’s guys on the team that haven’t been vaccinated. I think it’s a personal decision. I’m not going to judge those guys.” This is another statement intentionally designed to mislead the listener. Why on earth would he judge “those guys” when he is one of them?
So what did Rodgers mean when he said immunized? He reportedly received a homeopathic treatment from his personal doctor to boost his immune system, which the NFL ruled would not count the same as vaccination with regard to league COVID protocol. This man was out here trying to ward off a novel coronavirus that killed 750,000 Americans as of the day he tested positive with Flintstone vitamins and good vibes.
Rodgers only needs to look at his own team to see the impact and seriousness of COVID-19. Aaron Jones lost his father to COVID in April. Jones wears his ashes on the field because that’s the only way his father will ever attend another one of his football games. Mason Crosby’s wife survived lung cancer. Treatments for cancer often leave recipients immunocompromised and survivors are considered high-risk for severe COVID-19 by the CDC.
Let’s be clear about what I’m arguing though, lest there be any confusion. The point of this piece is not that he should be vaccinated. Sure, I think choosing to remain unvaccinated at this point is selfish and wrong. But I didn’t write something like this about Lazard last week. I understand that I, as a random person with a computer, do not have the power to make someone get vaccinated. Rodgers earned this level of ire because he LIED about it.
Rodgers is not the only high profile unvaccinated player. Lamar Jackson has caught COVID twice and is still, as far as anyone knows, unvaccinated. Cam Newton may have partly lost his job over not being vaccinated (he has since received the shot). Just across the NFC North, Kirk Cousins is also unvaccinated. But the important difference between the others and Rodgers is that they have given honest answers about their status. Cousins, for example, said he didn’t want to disclose his vaccination status, but he never said “yeah” when the answer is actually “no.” He says he’s willing to do whatever it takes (except getting vaccinated) and kicked around the idea of getting plexiglass barriers to keep himself and his teammates healthy and distanced from one another. Of course it seems silly when an effective, FDA approved vaccine is right there, but at least he’s honest and has accepted whatever people are going to say about his decision. Rodgers chose to deceive people so he would not have to face further questions or criticism. He couldn’t even say, “I’m not going to share that information.” He went with dishonesty instead. That’s not a leader, that’s a coward.
One of the most asinine tweets I saw in response to this debacle, from the host of a Packers podcast, said, “Rodgers doesn’t have any obligation to publicly share his health status with us.” And sure, that is true. It’s not me, a person in Iowa who has never met Rodgers, that I’m worried about though. He didn’t simply sit in a room full of reporters and decline to share his health status. He willfully, deliberately misled them in a way that put them at risk for a deadly virus. Rodgers has been meeting with reporters indoors and unmasked. Does he know if anyone in that room is immunocompromised or has a loved one who is? Would he be willing to bet a life on it? Rodgers’ deception denied every media member who has been in a room with him the ability to make accurate, informed decisions about their health. Someone with concerns about their risk might have chosen to wear a mask if they did not believe him to be vaccinated, they could have pushed the Packers to have Rodgers appear via Zoom, or even worked with their employer to complete their work in a different way. They didn’t have that opportunity.
Rodgers last met with the media, unmasked, last Thursday night following the Packers’ game. He tested positive six days later.
Those not among the deceived include the Packers organization and the NFL. Coach Matt LaFleur got up in a press conference and said with a straight face that the team has followed all protocols. LaFleur clarified a day later that he meant the rules were being followed in “the football space.” Frankly, I do not believe him and even if I did, that’s not good enough. His word about what goes on inside the building means very little when we can see Aaron on the sideline unmasked, we can see Aaron unmasked at a Halloween party with teammates, we can watch video of Aaron talking to reporters unmasked.
Why should I trust that someone in that organization is holding the star QB accountable instead of trying desperately to keep him happy so that he doesn’t leave after the season? They want me to believe that they were going to discipline Rodgers for breaking protocol at the party? Or worse, they want me to believe they didn’t know? Someone in Green Bay better take a long, hard look at the name on the front of their stadium and decide to be the leader in the room. Quickly.
The NFL, for its part, put out a somewhat buck-passing statement about how the teams individually are responsible for ensuring compliance with all COVID protocols. Whether it’s COVID protocol enforcement or protecting rich owners who foster abusive work environments, ultimately the NFL shield is nothing but a flimsy excuse that they’ve done all they can.
Aaron Rodgers deserves every letter of criticism he gets for misleading the media about his vaccination status, breaking protocol, and putting many people at risk. The fine for most protocol violations is $14,650 and this punishment needs to be more. If the NFL wants to maintain even a tiny shred of credibility that no one is getting special treatment, they need to make an example here. Other players, vaccinated and not, are watching what he’s allowed to do and those protocols aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on if no one thinks they have to follow them.
We’re here because Aaron Rodgers bet that he was too big and too important for anyone to call him out and for eight weeks he was right. A fine of $14,650 is nothing for someone with Rodgers’ salary. The NFL has to do more here. We’ll see if they have the guts to do it.
Ed. note: Rogers shared more, uh, info on the situation on Pat McAffee’s show this morning, as recorded in this twitter thread.