Column: Aaron Rodgers should be honest about his vaccination status


"Aaron Rodgers" by elviskennedy is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Aaron Rodgers is a quarterback for the Green Bay Packers.

Dustin Birnbaum, news staff

On Nov. 3, news broke that Green Bay Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers had tested positive for COVID-19 and would miss their upcoming game against the Kansas City Chiefs. 

On the surface, the unfortunate news of Rodgers’ positive test appeared to be nothing more than the new normal. Between Aug. 1 and Oct. 30, there were 279 confirmed positive tests from players and coaching personnel identified by routine morning tests. The vaccination rate for NFL players is 94.4%, much higher than the national average, but positive cases continue to linger. 

Vaccinated players like A.J. Green, Nick Chubb and Ben Roethlisberger have all been sidelined for a game because of a positive test. NFL protocols, however, differ dramatically from 2020 when there was no vaccine. For the 2021 season, the NFL has devised separate protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated players.

Protocols for vaccinated players are much more desirable. If a vaccinated player tests positive, he still must quarantine. However, once that player receives two consecutive negative tests 24 hours apart, he may return to duty. 

On the other hand, if an unvaccinated player tests positive, he is still subject to the 2020 protocols, which require a minimum isolation period of 10 days and must be asymptomatic upon their return. Other strict protocols for the unvaccinated include having to test every day, having to wear a mask at all times in team facilities and in interviews and a requirement to quarantine for five days if deemed a close contact with any teammate who has contracted COVID-19. 

Originally, when the news surfaced about Rodgers’ positive test, most NFL fans were saddened by the unfortunate reality but were confident Rodgers would return in a few days following two negative tests. New information, however, came out later that day revealing that Rodgers was unvaccinated. 

ESPN’s Rob Demovsky said Rodgers had received an alternative homeopathic treatment prior to the start of training camp in place of the COVID-19 vaccine. Additionally, Rodgers petitioned the NFL for a COVID-19 vaccine exemption, claiming to be allergic to an ingredient found in the vaccine. However, Rodgers lost this appeal but that did not change his mind about getting the vaccine Therefore, Rodgers was required to follow the much stricter protocols the NFL outlined for unvaccinated players.

Aaron Rodgers did not follow these protocols. In fact, most people outside the Green Bay Packers organization believed Rodgers had been vaccinated. Not because they heard from a source, but from Aaron Rodgers’ words himself. In a press conference with Rodgers Aug. 26, a reporter asked him if he was vaccinated and he promptly replied, “Yes, I’ve been immunized.” 

Whether you want to call his statement a lie, clever wordplay or intentional deception, the fact remains that Rodgers was unvaccinated and was not following the NFL protocols for unvaccinated players. He walked around maskless in indoor facilities, and he attended in-person interviews. The media who attended his press conferences were not informed that Rodgers was unvaccinated. Rodgers put these individuals and their loved ones at risk by not being transparent about his status and pretending as if he were vaccinated.

Many media members voiced their frustrations with Rodger’s deception in the aftermath of the breaking news. Even Stephen A. Smith, perhaps the biggest Aaron Rodgers fan who coined the term “he’s a bad man,” spoke of his disdain for Rodgers’ actions. On his weekday show, FirstTake, Smith stated that his actions were a “national embarrassment” and he even went as far as calling him a “coward” for lying about his vaccination status. 

Following the public backlash, Rodgers went on former Colts punter Pat McAfee’s talkshow to defend himself and double down on the fact that he didn’t lie about his vaccination status. His explanation for not getting the vaccine was because of an allergy to an ingredient in the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Furthermore, he went on a rant, claiming he is not an “anti-vax, flat-earther”, a direct shot at Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving. He continued, using phrases like “cancel culture casket,” “woke mob” and “witch hunt” to describe why he didn’t want to be outspoken about his stance on being unvaccinated. 

Perhaps even more outrageous, he cited a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. dealing with a moral responsibility to defy unjust laws. He shared that he received advice from his “good friend” Joe Rogan when contemplating his decision. However, Rogan holds no medical license and has no professional expertise or training in treating infectious diseases. In an attempt to cover for his wordplay, he claimed he would have clarified his position in August if the reporter had asked him a follow-up question after his deceptive wordplay and claim of being “immunized.” 

Smith is right; Rodgers is a coward and even that’s a generous way to describe his actions and behavior. He was selfish in not being upfront about his vaccination status, putting those around him at risk of potentially catching the virus, having an adverse or even life-threatening response or spreading it to somebody else who may be immunocompromised. 

Additionally, his supposed fears of the “woke mob canceling him from society” are a laughable cover-up for his lies. All you need to do is look at other high-profile NFL quarterbacks like former MVP Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Carson Wentz and Kirk Cousins. All of them were upfront about being unvaccinated initially and have followed the protocols accordingly. Last I checked, none of these athletes have been “canceled” or publicly besmirched. In fact, I now have more respect for these quarterbacks and all other NFL players who were honest about their unvaccinated status and acquiesced to the appropriate rules. 

Rodgers was sneaky, vindictive, selfish and manipulative in handling the situation. All he had to do was be truthful in the first place and none of this would have happened. But no, Aaron Rodgers wanted to have his cake and eat it too; he wanted to be unvaccinated and only have to follow the protocols for vaccinated players. He put other people’s lives in jeopardy (literally), and simply could care less about who may be affected by his actions. He certainly deserves further punishment than the $14,650 fine the NFL handed to him. 

All in all, nobody looks good in this situation. Rodgers obviously looks bad for his glaring role; the Green Bay Packers look bad for being negligent and enabling Rodgers’s behavior, and the NFL looks bad for knowing his status, not doing anything about it and then giving him the weakest sanction possible. In a league that has been adamant about player health and safety since the convoluted concussion cover-up that lasted far too many years, it certainly makes the NFL look hypocritical on its stance. 

Overall, the whole ordeal makes me feel more unsettled about COVID-19 than before. If a high-profile athlete like Rodgers had gotten away with being unvaccinated, there is no doubt in my mind that others are doing the same. This pandemic will never go away if unvaccinated individuals continue to show fake vaccination cards at restaurants and large gatherings. Lastly, we need to hold public figures like Rodgers to a higher standard when it comes to following mandated health guidelines. People look up to prominent figures, and setting an example like this is unacceptable. So don’t look at Rodgers as an example; look at him as the counterexample.