Aaron Rodgers’ Covid-19 case is a failure of leadership that won’t be forgotten

Aaron Rodgers may be a lot of things but stupid he is not. A noted bookworm and fill-in Jeopardy host, Rodgers of all people is keenly aware that words matter. In hindsight this explains why back in August when he was asked about his vaccination status by a reporter, he replied with a cryptic: “I’ve been immunized.”

If you’re like me, you thought Rodgers’ response was him being him – eccentric with maybe a touch of arrogance – but you assumed immunized equaled vaccinated.

A misdirection while technically not lying is one thing, but then Rodgers continued. “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.” Those guys? Any Logic 101 class would suggest that “those guys” implies “those guys who are not me”. While not a straight-up lie, it’s no different than if a faux vegan who secretly downs a steak once a week was asked how she gets her protein and replied, “I have my protein sources, but I’m not going to judge my friends who like to hang out in the butcher shop.”

Sug. Wel, now it’s looking likely that Rodgers misled us all along. Op Woensdag, die news broke that Rodgers tested positive for Covid-19 and will miss Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs because he is, inderdaad, not immunized with an actual Covid vaccine.

But the wounds cut much deeper than Rodgers missing four quarters of an NFL game. First off, there’s the simple selfish act of not getting a vaccine that protects yourself, your friends and your teammates. How can five million deaths worldwide, including more than 750,000 in the United States, not be enough to spook Rodgers into getting vaccinated? Keeping a dirty little secret like not being vaccinated from the public has exposed Rodgers as just another egotistical athlete who doesn’t think the rules (or science) apply to him. Per NFL Media, Rodgers had the nerve to ask the league and the NFLPA to grant him vaccinated status this summer because he had undergone treatment from his personal homeopathic doctor to raise his antibody levels.

Ignoring the science of vaccines didn’t quite work out for Rodgers, since clearly his antibody counts were not high enough to protect him from contracting Covid. But he’s not wrong about operating in an orbit of special rules. Die NFL, and almost certainly the Packers, have known about Rodgers’ status all season and yet they’ve allowed him to show up to his regular press conferences without a mask. This is a clear break in protocol, which states: “All players and staff who are not fully vaccinated must wear masks at all times when inside the Club facility.” Meanwhile, other unvaccinated Packers have na verneem word been doing their media sessions via Zoom instead of in person. Different rules.

It certainly begs the question that if this were another quarterback and not the reigning MVP, to whom the Packers acquiesced to this summer to keep him around, would that quarterback be afforded the level of protection?

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has famously been at odds over Kirk Cousins’ refusal to get vaccinated. Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson, on the other hand, has contracted Covid twice and suffered symptoms, while his coach has turned a blind eye. An unvaccinated Cam Newton was released by the Patriots in training camp. Now this was likely rooted in performance issues and wanting to hand the keys to Mac Jones, but Newton has since been touting his new fully vaccinated status in a quest to get signed.

There’s a key difference between Rodgers and other unvaccinated quarterbacks or even New Jersey Nets guard Kyrie Irving, who is clinging to his “freedom”, versus just getting a shot and being allowed to play basketball. It’s truth. As asinine as some of their rationales may seem, at least the others were honest.

Only time will tell what this does to Rodgers’ reputation both in house and in the public. While at least some of the Packers brass had to know if the NFL knew, it’s hard to discern how deep down the food chain the protection of Rodgers’ fell. Aaron Jones offered a misguided and widely mocked response to the question of whether he knew about Rodgers being unvaccinated. It’s not fair for Jones or anyone on the Packers roster to have to answer questions like this and there’s only one person to blame for why they are being asked.

Beyond the locker room, the aura of Rodgers suddenly feels different. We’ll know a lot more about where Rodgers’ legacy stands in the coming weeks and certainly in the offseason when he very well may be looking to latch on to a different franchise. Rodgers’ incredible talent hasn’t changed. But an NFL general manager that cares about intangibles like trustworthiness might want to tuck those keys to the franchise far away because Rodgers doesn’t feel like a leader anymore. He feels like a bad used car salesman.

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