December 3, 2021 | OPINION| By Emma McDermott | Illustration by Sierra Romero
He’s the darling of Green Bay. A symbol of Wisconsin pride. Starting quarterback for the Packers. 2010 Super Bowl Champion and MVP. A candidate to become the next host of Jeopardy. Partner of Shailene Woodley.
Aaron Rodgers has worn many hats, rising to stardom in the NFL and becoming a household name in the United States. Now, he’s the face of the anti-vax cause in America.
On Nov. 5, Rodgers gave an interview on The Pat McAfee Show during which several of his comments resembled the ramblings of an unhinged, angry lunatic. He used the terms “propaganda” and “witch hunt” to describe the NFL’s efforts to encourage players to get vaccinated several times throughout the 47 minutes, most of which was consumed by his whining about the tribulations of an unvaccinated player. He complained about “wokeness” and “cancel culture,” even appropriating the “my body, my choice” slogan for his anti-vax argument.
This lambasting of vaccine advocates, the NFL, the media, and “the left” came in the wake of misleading comments about his vaccine status made in August. The issue isn’t that Rodgers is unvaccinated (he’s not the only player nor the only starting quarterback in the league with that status). Rather, it’s that upon being asked if he was vaccinated five months ago, he said “Yeah, I’ve been immunized.”
Facing no follow-up question to that response, it was generally and reasonably assumed that Rodgers was vaccinated against COVID-19. As such, it came as a surprise when Rodgers tested positive for the virus and underwent the protocol for unvaccinated individuals.
The superstar quarterback explained in the November interview that he is allergic to an ingredient in the mRNA vaccines (those being the Pfizer and Moderna inoculations), leaving the Johnson & Johnson shot his only remaining choice. Rodgers was wary of the J&J vaccine’s side effects, citing fear of blood clots. Ultimately, Rodgers justified his decision not to get vaccinated against COVID-19 for these reasons and his strong belief in “bodily autonomy.”
Aaron Rodgers has every right to make the call about whether to get a COVID-19 vaccine, no doubt about it. He is, admittedly, a phenomenal athlete in excellent physical condition. He takes care of his body and lives a healthy lifestyle, reducing his risk of experiencing serious symptoms. Even more, he’s a person, and he’s entitled to make decisions about his body.
The problem is, though, that he was deceptive about answering the initial question and has since adopted some radical and dangerous views (like saying he’s been taking hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, which is not FDA approved for viral infections). Rodgers is beloved in Green Bay and propagating such information in tandem with his personal validation of it will undoubtedly influence his fans’ decisions about the COVID-19 vaccine.
This is where Rodgers has a responsibility to be better as public figure with status. Most fans of his aren’t nearly as healthy as is he, yet they listen to what he says and emulate him. Rodgers can be all for “bodily autonomy” and make the choice best for his body, but he should take more seriously the gravity of his voice. He is in the unique, difficult, and powerful position to influence public opinion and, in this case, save lives.
Admittedly, Rodgers expounded on the importance of physical health, calling out that experts and the media have not pushed its importance in mitigating the consequences of COVID-19: “Has any member of the health staff, this entire time, got up and actually talked about real health? Have they talked about exercise, a healthy diet, like, eating real food, drinking water, taking vitamins, Vitamin D deficiency and what that causes in the body? No. There hasn’t been any of that.”
Rodgers is right to criticize our unwillingness as a society to talk about such factors. Doing so might have saved lives. What he needs to recognize, however, is that most people listening to him are not in shape the way he is, and talking with such animosity about a vaccine that will benefit his fans does, to an extent, make him culpable for vaccine hesitancy.
In the November interview, Rodgers doubled down on the argument that he didn’t mislead anyone with the August “immunized” comment: “There was nothing deceptive about it. You know me, the things I say are very pointed.” Anyone with a drop of common sense can recognize that this is a ridiculous claim.