By playing the victim, Rodgers is erring

Aaron Rodgers seems to think he's suffered some injustice because he decided not to get the vaccine, but that's only because he's too thin-skinned to ignore any criticism no matter how justified.

“Man, this place looks expensive,” Homer Simpson said of his 3-D surroundings. “I feel like I’m wasting a fortune just standing here.”

Then he scratched his butt. OK. Maybe the new graphics at the newsletter aren’t that nice, but I am pretty excited. They’re also a direct result of the initial offering of paid subscriptions. T-shirts and stickers are next!

Today’s column focuses on Aaron Rodgers and why his determination to play the victim rings hollow both because of the lack of actual negative consequences for his behavior and the fact that he isn’t as unapologetically authentic as he seems to believe. But first, I want to point you to the Iconic Sonics podcast, which is hosted by Mike Gastineau. He was generous enough to invite me on with Francis Williams for an episode which was posted Wednesday. I covered the Sonics for three seasons starting in 2002. This was a great chance to reflect on that. I also got a chance to tell one of my favorite stories, which involves Detlef Schrempf’s rookie year in Dallas.

Thanks for reading, and be on the lookout for a podcast a little bit later on Thursday morning!

Like Aaron Rodgers, tennis pro Novak Djokovic is unvaccinated.

Like Rodgers, Djokovic was less than honest in his disclosures relating that, though to be fair, Djokovic lied on an immigration form whereas Rodgers only misled a bunch of reporters.

But unlike Rodgers, Djokovic faced actual, demonstrable consequences from his decisions. While neither the NFL nor the Packers ratted out the fact Rodgers was unvaccinated, the Australian government turned Djokovic’s application for an exemption into a week-long spectacle before denying him entry to the country. He didn’t get to defend his title in the Grand Slam event where he’s had the most success.

I don’t feel bad for Djokovic. Not at all. Australia has had very strict procedures during the pandemic, and Djokovic was asking for an exception to be made so he could enter to play in a tennis tournament. He also lied on those immigration forms and — back in December — didn’t quarantine after he said he tested positive for COVID, which makes it hard to feel it was some sort of injustice even if it seems like Djokovic was given an indication from the provincial government that he’d get an exemption only to have the national authorities step in once he arrived.

Compare that to what Rodgers has had to endure the past two months, which is … uhhh … being mocked on the Internet? His All State commercials are still airing. The MVP award won’t be announced until the Thursday before the Super Bowl, but I bet he’s going to win it. What exactly has his decision not to be vaccinated cost him?

Oh, wait. He was also fined $14,650 for not following the NFL’s rules for unvaccinated players, and some MVP voter nobody has ever heard of called him a jerk in a radio interview. Am I missing anything? Was there something else he lost? I mean other than Saturday’s game to the 49ers. Oh sorry. That was a cheap shot. Then again, Rodgers can just add it to the list of indignities he feels he’s suffered because he is this unapologetically authentic, critical-thinking searcher who’s taking responsibility for his own health. At least that’s what he said in an hour-long interview on the Pat McAfee Show earlier this week.

I listened to the whole thing. I heard Rodgers use the word narrative at least half a dozen times. He got echo chamber, hit piece and confirmation bias in there, too, which has got to be some sort of trifecta in the Reddit manual of modern philosophy. But 25 minutes into the interview, I actually found myself agreeing with Rodgers, and given the amount of scorn Rodgers believes has been directed at him, maybe this represents an opportunity to find some common ground. Because when Rodgers addressed Pat McAfee and A.J. Hawk, he said something that truly resonated with me.

“You guys are unapologetically yourselves and you’re authentic,” Rodgers said to McAfee and Hawk. “I think — most of us — that’s what we strive to be, right? We strive to be ourselves and to be authentic and I think there’s parts of us that die inside when we feel like we have to act or play a role or not be able to be entirely ourselves.”

Co-signed. Absolutely. I believe this to be true, and it’s possible Rodgers believes this just as ardently. It’s just that there is no way to square that statement with his actions over the course of this past six months. I’m not talking about what he said this week or even what happened after he was diagnosed with COVID. Before that. Back in August, when he led reporters to believe he was vaccinated by playing semantics. Asked if he received the vaccine, Rodgers said, “Yeah, I’ve been immunized.” What was authentic about that?

Also, there are rules that the NFL requires unvaccinated players to follow. Rules that Rodgers disregarded when he failed to wear a mask at his weekly press conference, which was held indoors. Of course, wearing a mask would have been a tell that Rodgers was unvaccinated, a decision he was so unapologetic about that he took specific steps to avoid tipping anyone off.

Rodgers has never really accepted responsibility for those things, though. He apologized if anyone felt misled, but he never said he was wrong. Even this week, he said he used the word “immunized” because an appeal to the NFL, seeking to be classified as a vaccinated player, was still active and it hinged on that specific word: immunized. Rodgers said he didn’t follow the rules about masks because he thought they were stupid.

Rodgers seems to believe he’s this beacon for independent thought; his actions tell a different story. For three months, he did specific, demonstrable and repeated things that made people think he was vaccinated. And then — when it turned out he wasn’t — he became a thin-skinned, rabbit-eared baby about how mean everyone was to him, saying it was because vaccination has become political. This came to a climax with Saturday’s display of schadenfreude after the Packers lost.

“There were a ton of people tuning in, rooting against us for one reason and one reason only,” Rodgers said to McAfee. “It’s because of my vaccination status.”

Except I don’t think that’s true. Carson Wentz isn’t vaccinated. Neither is Kirk Cousins. Nor is Lamar Jackson. All of them faced criticism, and while none experienced it to the extent of Rodgers, none of them misled everyone about their vaccination status. They also didn’t complain about the criticism they faced over the vaccination status.

Now, it is possible that Rodgers is so much more well known than them that he would have received this degree of criticism even if he had been honest back in August. I don’t think so, though. I think there are two reasons that Rodgers received a larger level of scorn:

  1. He lied. Or — if you want to be incredibly charitable — he deliberately misled reporters in August and failed to follow the mask protocols thereby concealing the fact he had not been vaccinated.

  2. He made it clear the criticism bothered him, which everyone learns in grade school is the worst way to respond to ridicule. That brings me back to his whole rap on unapologetic authenticity. Specifically, I don’t think that means what he think it means.

Rodgers hears what people say. He always has, and he can’t help but snipe back about it whether it was his crack about God being a Packers fan after Green Bay beat Seattle or in 2011 — when the Packers beat the Saints in the season-opener — and Rodgers took a jab about what a big deal the Saints had made about their players-only workouts during the lockout. The Packers had been doing that, too, Rodgers implied. They just didn’t make a big production out of it.

Those aren’t the actions of someone who is unapologetically authenticity. Neither is name-checking Ayn Rand during a television interview on Monday Night Football, as Rodgers did, and then later joking he had never even read the book. He just said it because you knew it would get a rise out of people. That’s what trolls do! And people who collect and curate every slight, perceived or real. These are the actions of the hopelessly combative and the painfully insecure, which is exactly the kind of person Rodgers claims NOT to be.

I’m going to end this column the same way I started it: with a quote from Rodgers that I absolutely agree with. Maybe next time he says it, he’ll actually be living like that instead of taking pot shots at the haters and mentioning books he thinks will aggravate his critics.

“The thing that inspires me,” Rodgers said, “is people who are unapologetically themselves. That are authentically themselves and understand it’s not going to be for everybody. It’s not a popularity contest. You’re not always going to be liked. You’re not always going to be understood, appreciated, respected, by people for whatever reason, but it doesn’t stop you from being yourself.”

The kind of person who — if they decide against being vaccinated — either states that bluntly or doesn’t comment instead of misleading people about what they’ve done and then playing the victim when their fib is exposed.

Join the conversation

or to participate.