Diva: An Aaron Rodgers Primer for Non-Sports Fans

TL;DR: He's one of the 25 greatest football players of all time. He's also an insufferable prima donna.

Last week, as news broke of the reigning NFL MVP testing positive for covid-19 and not being vaccinated, “Aaron Rogers” trended on Twitter.

Because so many folks don’t know enough about the longtime Green Bay Packers quarterback to spell his last name correctly—let alone understand why what he did was such an enormous fuck-you to his teammates and coaches, beat writers and other members of the media, State Farm and his other corporate sponsors, and Packer fans everywhere, not to mention everyone who drafted him for their fantasy football team—I decided to prepare a primer on Aaron Rodgers (that’s R-O-D-G-E-R-S, with a “D” for “diva”) for non-sports fans.

Aaron Rodgers, Football Player

Quarterback is the most important position in all of team sports. At any given time, there are maybe half a dozen guys who can play it at an elite level. You have to be able to throw with pinpoint accuracy. You have to be fearless in the face of a pass rush—four 300-pound lineman with menace in their eyes, plus the occasional blitzing safety, trying to commit acts of violence against you. You have to be able to recognize what defenses are doing. You have to command the huddle. You have to be able to communicate well with coaches and teammates. You have to withstand the mental pressure of the job. And you have to not get hurt.

Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game.

The Athletic ranked him 21st on its recent list of the Top 100 NFL players of all time. He was drafted by Green Bay in 2005, inherited the starting job from Brett Favre in 2008, and has been awesome ever since. He won the MVP award in 2011, 2014, and last year, at age 37.

Not many humans can do stuff like this. No less an authority than Tom Brady said, of Rodgers, “He’s so much more talented than me.”

But while Rodgers may have more natural ability than Brady, there is no question who’s better. Aaron Rodgers is basically a third-rate Tom Brady. He’s not as handsome (it’s not remotely close), not as famous (no one spells Brady’s name wrong on Twitter), not as appealing to celebrity women (Gisele > Shailene), not as popular (Egads, those State Farm ads are tedious), and not as successful: Rodgers has been to the Super Bowl once, in 2010, taking home the Lombardi Trophy. Brady has been to the Super Bowl ten fucking times, and won seven, including last year, when he was 43 years old!

Bottom line: as a quarterback, Rodgers is really good. But nowhere near Tom Brady good.

Aaron Rodgers, Diva

Tom Brady’s primary focus is always on football. How can I get better? How can we win next year? One of the reasons Brady has been so successful is that he’s an excellent teammate. Even at age 44, old enough to be the father of plenty of players in the league, he’s all about team.

Aaron Rodgers is all about Aaron Rodgers. He loves to create drama. Like Brady, he dates celebrities. Unlike Brady, who’s been married to supermodel Gisele Bündchen since 2009, he has yet to wed one (although he is engaged to clay-eating actress Shailene Woodley). Like Brady, he comes from a close-knit family. Unlike Brady, he no longer speaks to them.

Here’s his brother Jordan Rodgers, who once won The Bachelorette, talking to the Sporting News:

Like I said, I have a great relationship with my brother Luke. Me and Aaron don’t really have that much of a relationship. It’s just kind of the way he’s chosen to do life. I chose to stay close with my family and my parents and my brother, and, um, yeah, it’s just—it’s not ideal. I love him, and I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in his shoes and have the pressure he has and the demands from people that he has. Don’t have hard feelings against him, it’s just how things go right now.

As the end of his career approaches, Rodgers seems to be thinking about life post-football; Brady seems not to have given the matter much thought. Certainly Tom Brady never mounted a campaign to host Jeopardy!

When Brady had issues with Patriots management—when New England coach Bill Belichick didn’t want to give him a multi-year deal because he was in his 40s—he handled the situation like a pro. When Rodgers had issues with Packers management—issues that were never made clear, and seemed more about pique than football—he demanded a trade. But he did this right around the NFL draft. His demands were as team-sabotaging as they were ill-timed.

After hinting that he might hold out this year, making the entire off-season into a soap opera, Rodgers finally graced the Packers with his presence, and completely mailed in the first game of the 2021 season, a blowout loss to the Saints.

“I think Rodgers is a diva,” said the great Bill Simmons, the Sports Guy, on his podcast last Friday. “I think he’s been a diva for the last couple years. I think the way he handled this offseason was very diva-ish.”

The Green Bay Packers boast a unique ownership structure. They are the only publicly-owned, not-for-profit team in any major sports league. The fans literally own the team. Quarterbacks of Rodgers’s stature play for years, sometimes decades, much longer than most of their teammates. He has cycled through four or five leading wide receivers during his time with the team. It’s hard to consistently field a competitive team, but the Packers do so almost every year. The team’s management and ownership have consistently put Aaron Rodgers in the position to succeed. And they’ve paid him vast sums for his services: over a quarter of a billion dollars total.

In short, he has little to complain about. But he complains anyway, because that’s what Aaron Rodgers does. Nothing is ever good enough for this guy.

“I didn’t understand why he chose the week of the NFL Draft to blow [his illogical unhappiness in Green Bay] up into an even bigger story,” Simmons added. “He makes it seem like he’s on the [historically awful] 2021 Jaguars. HE’S ON A GOOD TEAM!” A team that still may win the Super Bowl this year.

His teammates have all publicly supported Rodgers. So has his coach. But I can’t imagine that any of them were happy with the shit he pulled with the trade demands. He was a diva all summer. And now, with the Packers at 7-1, tied for the league’s best record heading into the weekend, he missed Sunday’s game against the Chiefs. His backup, Jordan Love, started the game—the Packers’ decision to draft Love in the first round two years ago also upset the thin-skinned Rodgers—and managed only a garbage-time touchdown against a woeful Kansas City defense. Green Bay lost a game they almost certainly would have won had Rodgers played.

“To me,” Simmons said, Rodgers “just seemed like a classic narcissist the last year where everything was somebody else’s fault, and he took no responsibility. He honestly thought he was going to be the Jeopardy! host which was insane, they were never making him the Jeopardy! host. Everything he did compromised his team. Some of the stuff Rodgers has done over the last year just seems narcissistic, so when you throw in everything today it’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s on-brand, from what we’ve seen.’”

Aaron Rodgers, Liar

For all its warts, and there are plenty, the NFL handled the pandemic brilliantly. The league deployed state-of-the-art contact tracing technology to immediately identify and quarantine potential exposure. The health and safety protocols are extreme, erring on the side of caution, but there’s no question that they work. It’s a minor miracle that the league was able to play a full season last year, pre-vaccine, with minimal disruption from covid-19. The Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins called the NFL’s blueprint a “genuine public service.”

Plenty of NFL players are not vaccinated. Those players have even more stringent protocols than the vaccinated players, for obvious reasons. But the success of the entire operation depends on honesty. One lying piece of shit can bring down the whole house of cards.

Enter Aaron Rodgers.

When asked in pre-season if he’d been vaccinated, Rodgers said, “Yeah, I’m immunized.”

Everyone took that to mean he’d gotten the vaccine, but no—he meant he was immunized because, um, let’s let Rodgers explain it:

I looked into and talked to a lot of medical individuals and professionals and found that there was an immunization protocol that I could go to to best protect myself and my teammates, and it was a long-term protocol that involved multiple months, and I’m very proud of the research that went into that.

And look, if a guy who has subjected his pro-athlete body to the rigors of professional football for the last 16 seasons wants to believe that a Pfizer vaccine will do more damage to said body than, say, Khalil Mack, that’s his constitutional right. The problem is that Rodgers, diva that he is, ignored the league’s mask rules for unvaccinated players, risking the health and safety of teammates, coaches, and media members.

As Packers beat writer Matt Schneidman explains in The Athletic:

Rodgers said the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols are not based in science and that the league is trying to expose and shame individuals who aren’t vaccinated.

Rodgers is technically supposed to wear a mask at the indoor podium he speaks at every week and after games, but he has not once done that this season. That is a violation of league protocols, which would subject him to a fine. Rodgers said he thinks that rule is ridiculous because reporters in the room are vaccinated and masked.

“If you got vaccinated to protect yourself from a virus that I don’t have as unvaccinated individual, then why are you worried about anything I can give you?” he asked.

Recognize the theme? Rodgers is above the rules—even when breaking them subjects reporters covering the team to greater risk of exposure.

Terry Bradshaw, the colorful NFL studio analyst who won four Super Bowls as quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers—three more than Rodgers—said it best on the Fox Sunday pre-game show, which was broadcast at the Naval Academy:

“I’ll give Aaron Rodgers some advice,” Bradshaw said. “It would have been nice if he had just come to the Naval Academy and learned how to be honest. Learned not to lie. Because that’s what you did, Aaron. You lied to everyone.”

Aaron Rodgers, Critical Thinker

“I’d like to make a statement. It was not my intention to skirt the truth when asked about my vaccine status. I was being truthful when I said I was immunized. Further, I felt that, because my decision to not get vaccinated was so specific to my own allergies to vaccines, me publicly stating that I was not vaxxed might convinced others who should get the vaccine to not do so. I’m sorry to my teammates and coaches, the fans, and the media members I might have put at risk.”

That’s what Rodgers should have said, after news broke of his being ruled ineligible for Sunday’s game because of covid-19 protocols. Instead, he doubled down on the stupid. He appeared on the sports show of Pat McAfee, the feisty former NFL punter, and tried to explain himself. This was a disastrous decision that will likely cost him millions of dollars in lost endorsement money. (Or maybe not—for now, State Farm is, inexplicably, standing by him).

Rodgers started off by channeling his inner Josh Hawley: “I realize I’m in the crosshairs of the woke mob right now, 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. And I appreciate the opportunity to tell my side of the story here.”

Then there was this:

First of all, I didn’t lie in the initial press conference. During that time, it was a . . . witch hunt that was going on across the league, where everybody in the media was so concerned about who was vaccinated and who wasn’t and what that meant and who was being selfish and who would talk about it, what it meant if they said it’s a personal decision and they shouldn’t have to disclose their own medical information. And at the time, my plan was to say that I have been immunized. It wasn’t some sort of ruse or lie. It was the truth.

But had there been a follow up to my statement that I’ve been immunized, I would have responded with this: I would have said, “Look, I’m not some sort of anti-vax flat-earther. I am somebody who’s a critical thinker.” You guys know me, 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.

Again: the NFL was more successful managing the pandemic than any other organization in sports—and most organizations, period. It is also one of the most conservative, Republican-leaning pro sports leagues. Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, is many things; “woke” is not one of them. Those health protocols exist because the league knows that to make money, it must keep its players healthy. The NFL knows more about this than Aaron Rodgers and the research he’s so proud of.

That bit about “anti-vax flat-earther” is a dig on Kyrie Irving, the Nets guard who may be the most prominent anti-vax athlete in the country. Irving is indeed a flat-earther—that is, he literally believes the earth is flat—so he’s maybe not the best source when studying science. If he won’t accept Copernicus, how can we expect him to embrace Fauci? But at least Kyrie Irving was honest about his vaccine hesitancy. He didn’t flout league protocols. He’s followed the rules, at enormous personal expense. His ignorance is dangerous, as he is a popular player who may convince fans to not get vaccinated. But he’s not a liar like Aaron Rodgers.

Aaron Rodgers, Civil Rights Leader

Later in the interview with McAfee, after throwing shade at Kyrie Irving, who is Black, Rodgers seemed to compare his own refusal to conform to the league’s mask mandate to African-American civil rights leaders fighting racial injustice. He actually quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. “The great MLK said that you have a moral obligation to object to unjust rules and rules that make no sense.”

To state the obvious: Aaron Rodgers is not being persecuted because of the color of his skin. He’s being called out, rightly, for being a lying asshole who jeopardized the safety of others. And, I mean. . .

As Bill Simmons also pointed out on his podcast: when footballs left in the cold deflated, as footballs left in the cold will, Tom Brady was suspended for four games—which was ridiculous then and is even more ridiculous in hindsight. Rodgers is apparently not going to be suspended for jeopardizing the health and safety of everyone who came near him all season.

There is white privilege, there is white male privilege, there is rich white male privilege, and there is rich white male elite quarterback privilege, which Aaron Rodgers, despite his histrionics, has enjoyed for a decade and a half. He is not the victim here.

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Photo credit: Rodgers in a recent State Farm ad, “Music Store.”