Aaron Rodgers has long been his own man, so to speak, and has been an icon to millions of football fans. After his latest confrontation with his league and with common sense, it will be interesting to see how many of those fans continue to hold him in that high regard.
Rodgers occupied a level of stardom in the National Football League that few can claim. He is right below Tom Brady, perhaps, but at least the equal of just about anyone else.
He is less than a month away from turning 38 years old, which is a testament to his durability as a sports idol. He has played for the Green Bay Packers since he was drafted out of the University of California in 2005.
His career with the Packers has fit perfectly in a form created by Bart Starr and then Brett Favre, two of the all-time greats.
He has always been something of a rebel, though nothing to extreme. Lately, he has been seen on State Farm Insurance ads, underscoring his status as a sports celebrity.
This spring, he was auditioning to be the host of “Jeopardy!” Nearly every day, he pops up on television ads for national brands like State Farm.
He is a Super Bowl winner, the reigning league Most Valuable Player and undisputed star of the highest order.
But, last week, we learned he had lied about being vaccinated against COVID, which the league requires, and has since rationalized it by saying he has allergies that might be provoked by the shot and he fears fertility consequences and blood clots.
In short, he was dismissive of scientific data and expertise, as well as NFL protocol. He told reporters he had been “immunized” against the disease, not admitting he was actually unvaccinated.
He has been fined $14,650 and has spent the past week and a half in quarantine. The quarantine is set to expire Saturday, meaning that, if all goes perfectly, he could be back in the lineup Sunday.
But Rodgers’s reputation has taken a wallop. He is in a tiny minority who rejects science on COVID vaccines. He has endangered himself and others by attending a Halloween party unmasked, and with others unmasked. The NFL and much of America look askance at such behavior.
And, as a genuine celebrity and idol, his words, however unwise and uninformed, have influence well beyond his immediate circle.
State Farm has not parted ways with him, saying he has the right to his opinion. However, the company cut back last weekend on the number of ads it ran featuring him.
On game days, he had been in about a quarter of State Farm ads. Last weekend he was in only a few.
He may retain his stature in Green Bay, though even that remains to be seen.
But, across the entire sports landscape, Aaron Rodgers may be a name with an entirely different resonance going forward.