What would I do without sports in my life? I’d hate even to ponder such a thought because, for the better part of five decades, it’s provided an entertainment outlet that I can escape to just when the political world drives me insane.
As a political nerd who pays attention to the daily goings-on in that world, I can’t wait until there’s a big game or even one that isn’t that important in the overall scope of things. It’s what keeps me grounded, engaged and prevents me from banging my head against the wall.
However, sometimes sports intersects with politics, culture, and society. It happens more these days than ever before. We see this happening throughout America, and it manages to seep its way into professional locker rooms across the sporting spectrum.
Nothing more epitomizes this phenomenon than what we saw happen in the NFL this past weekend. With so much upheaval leveled upon the American people due to COVID-19 over the past nearly two years, it’s not a shock that it would find its way into the realm of professional football.
Amazingly, though, what transpired also highlighted something that sport can teach our society. While every team in sports possesses athletes who transcend that particular sport and who stand out among all others, it usually comes down to who has the best team. That’s right, not necessarily the guy who scores four touchdowns or goes for 50 points in a particular game. It’s usually a collection of individuals who play together for one common goal: to win.
Occasionally, though, you get some athletes who go against the grain and put themselves above the team, which brings me to Aaron Rodgers, the enigmatic, future first-ballot hall of fame quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. In case you missed the story, Rodgers recently tested positive for COVID.
When Rodgers was asked whether he was vaccinated back in August, he gave the reporter who asked the question an interesting reply, simply saying that yes, he’d been “immunized.” Most people at the time figured he meant that he was indeed vaccinated. Unfortunately, Rodgers’ little play-on-words meant that he was not vaccinated.
Why not just say it at the time? Well, Aaron Rogers always feels he’s the most intelligent guy in the room, and rather than explain himself back then, it was much easier to mislead the public into thinking he was vaccinated. I suppose he didn’t want to deal with the backlash.
Well, he could have saved himself some heartburn if he had come clean. Because now he’s revealed himself to the sporting world to be nothing but a selfish individual who didn’t care about his team enough to get the shot. In a rambling, incoherent interview on The Pat McAfee Show on Sirius XM, Rodgers wanted to let everyone know that the “woke mob” was out for him and that he wanted to set the record straight before he got “cancel cultured.”
Just those two phrases alone let you know where Rodgers stands politically. Those are words straight out of Fox News and Republican politicians we hear daily. So he, himself, is making it a political issue. He even gave a shoutout to a guy he consulted with, Podcaster Joe Rogan, a darling of the right-wing world who happens to be an anti-vaxxer and Ivermectin promoter. A guy with the supposed intellect of Rodgers asks a podcast guy for advice on the vaccine? He’s the kind of ‘expert’ Rodgers listens to?
But what makes the whole thing rotten is what Rodgers’ decision not to get vaccinated did to his team. NFL protocols mandate that Rodgers miss at least one game, and possibly two, depending on testing results in the coming days.
In the NFL, the season is short. In many ways, it’s a sprint, not a marathon. So most games take on much greater significance than professional baseball or basketball leagues whose seasons are considerably longer.
Rodgers missed Sunday’s game against Kansas City. The Packers lost the contest 13-7, and his team fought hard until the end. He was replaced in the game by Jordan Love, who was drafted by the Packers in 2020, and looked like a deer in headlights during the game.
Rodgers, by the way, acted like a petulant child after Love was drafted, seemingly threatened by the team’s attempt to look to the future. Love hasn’t played much, as this is only his second year in the league, so he must be given a pass. He was thrown to the wolves, and the wolves feasted upon his inexperience.
This game, this loss, is all on Aaron Rogers. He decided that he was more important than the team itself.
Selfish players are not an anomaly, however. It’s about how the team reacts under different circumstances to overcome the actions of that type of me-first player. We had another situation arise in the NFL last week, only in this instance, there was nothing political about it.
In this case, it was about a player, Odell Beckham Jr., who didn’t like that the team was not using him the way he wanted. His team, the Cleveland Browns, relieved Beckham of his duties with the Browns by placing him on waivers. If left unclaimed by other teams, Beckham can then sign with a ballclub of his choosing if he receives an offer.
Beckham wanted a trade or a release from the Browns so he could, once again, be the centerpiece of a team hopefully in contention for the Super Bowl. While the split has been brewing for a while now, it was when Beckham’s father released a video last week showing how often his son was open during several games, but seemingly ignored by Browns starting QB, Baker Mayfield, that was the final straw as far as the Browns were concerned.
It was clear how this was all going to go once the release of the tape became public. The Browns could no longer tolerate the shenanigans of a disgruntled and selfish player who never wanted to play for them in the first place.
So the football world’s eyes were centered on two places this past weekend; Kansas City, which is where the Packers played, and Cincinnati, which is where the Browns played. How would these two teams react to the detrimental actions of the franchises’ two biggest divas?
The Browns played perhaps their best game of the season on Sunday. They prevailed 41-16, and Baker Mayfield played wonderfully, as did the rest of the team. Ahh. There’s that word again: team. The organization came together as one. They did not let the distraction of the previous week derail what needed to be done on the field.
The results were a bit different for the Green Bay Packers. While they did not prevail, they played hard and did all they could to try and win the game by all accounts. Unfortunately, in this case, the selfish player, Aaron Rodgers, is an essential part of what they do as a team. It was hard to overcome, especially with an inexperienced player taking his place.
Eventually, Rodgers will be back, under center as the starting QB for his football team. How his team reacts to him will be fascinating. But the fact remains that Rodgers put himself before his team. They’re professional athletes and will most likely decide to live with their selfish starting QB. What choice do they have, especially if they all want to go to a Super Bowl? They can’t do it without Rodgers. And he knows it. I’d personally have a hard time working around a guy like that. But that’s just me.
The way these stories played out showed how the NFL and other sports at times reflect societal problems and issues we deal with daily. In the Aaron Rodgers debacle, how can we not think of what’s going on in hospitals, school board meetings, grocery stores, and workplaces across the country? You know, people yelling about their “personal freedom” being under attack, refusing to wear masks, or declining to get a free shot that will protect them and others from a severe disease.
Here we had a guy with enormous national notoriety refusing to abide by the rules his employer had put in to ensure the actual football season could go on without serious disruption due to the virus. He didn’t care about that, nor his team. He took on the personalities of all the COVID deniers and anti-vaxxers and seemed proud to do it.
But in the case with the Browns, we saw something entirely different. We saw a team come together when it needed to the most. The season could have gone another way had they not won the game. Despite the distraction surrounding their most selfish and entitled teammate, they rose to the occasion and prevailed.
That’s what it’s all about. Is this not what we try to teach our children? And isn’t it what we should all want our society to be, one focused on we instead of me?
If only we could get the millions who refuse vaccination on the we side of things. Perhaps COVID would, once and for all, be out of our lives for good. It’s too bad Aaron Rodgers and his ilk do not think this way.
Selfishness, politics, society, culture, and perseverance. Yes, it all was on display in the National Football League this past weekend. And while I love to be entertained by the greatest of athletes and welcome the respite from America’s problems, you cannot escape – even in sports.