Mark Tapson is the Shillman Fellow on Popular Culture for the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
In recent years many professional athletes have come to be as well-known for their (invariably leftwing) political stances as for their sporting achievements. Take former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, for example, cop-hating Black Lives Matter icon; or women’s soccer captain Megan Rapinoe, anti-American LGBT advocate; or NBA star LeBron James, enthusiast for the communist regime in China. Celebrities now are expected to be social justice activists; political neutrality is not an option for anyone who wants to be applauded for demonstrating that he or she is on “the right side of history.”
So it’s refreshing when a pro athlete like Green Bay Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers unabashedly states, “I’m an athlete. I’m not an activist.” Rodgers, a Super Bowl winner, three-time Most Valuable Player in the National Football League, and nine-time Pro Bowl selectee, is generally considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. He has also become a polarizing, controversial figure and a target of the totalitarian left precisely because he doesn’t conform to the woke expectations of our heavily-politicized culture.
Last November, Rodgers triggered the left-dominated media after making statements that did not align with the acceptable narrative about COVID-19 and the Biden administration’s (mis)handling of it, such as suggesting – horrors! – that the low-cost, readily available ivermectin was beneficial for people suffering with the virus. Propaganda outlets from the Washington Post to USA Today to Sports Illustrated were quick to slam Rodgers for “mistruths and half-truths,” and for “lying” about his vaccination status (he stated only that he had been “immunized,” which was true).
Rodgers subsequently explained that he had an allergy to two of the available mRNA vaccines, which left him with only the option of the Johnson & Johnson version. But in light of all the adverse reactions reported in the media about the J&J shot, Rodgers decided to forgo it.
“So then my options became, ‘Okay, what can I do to protect myself and my teammates if there’s not one of the big three options for me in my own body?’” he said. “And so I looked into and talked, again, to a lot of medical individuals and professionals and found that there was an immunization protocol that I could go to, to best protect myself and my teammates. And it was a long term protocol that involved multiple months. I’m very proud of the research that went into that and the individuals that I met with and we felt like it was what was best for me.”
He added, “I believe strongly in bodily autonomy and the ability to make choices for your body, not to have to acquiesce to some woke culture or crazed group of individuals who say you have to do something. Health is not a one-size-fits-all for everybody.”
This wasn’t enough for the totalitarian left, who do not allow deviations from the collective. Aging talk show blowhard Howard Stern, for example, declared, “If there was decency in this world, I would throw this guy out of the football league so fast.” Stern fancies himself a rebel but is as conformist as they come. He despises athletes who do not fall in line with the left’s vaccination obsession. He demanded that unvaxxed tennis star Novak Djokovic be banned from the sport, for instance, and absolutely lost his mind publicly over Rodgers’ choice not to get vaccinated.
Like Stern, NFL Most Valuable Player Award voter Hub Arkush too was triggered by Rodgers’ decision. One of the 50 people the Associated Press allows to vote for the league’s MVP, Arkush announced that he wouldn’t be casting his vote for Rodgers, regardless of whether the quarterback earned it: “I don’t think you can be the biggest jerk in the league and punish your team, and your organization and your fan base the way he did and be the Most Valuable Player. Has he been the most valuable on the field? Yeah, you could make that argument.”
Not only could you make that argument — Rodgers is currently considered a shoo-in for the award — but that argument should be the only criterion for MVP. But Arkush thinks “that the way he’s carried himself is inappropriate. I think he’s a bad guy, and I don’t think a bad guy can be the most valuable guy at the same time.”
Rodgers pushed back, responding publicly about Arkush: “His problem isn’t with me being a ‘bad guy’ or ‘the biggest jerk in the league’ — because he doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know anything about me. I’ve never met him. I’ve never had lunch with him. I’ve never had an interview with him. His problem is I’m not vaccinated. So if he wants to go on a crusade and collude and come up with an extra letter to put on the award just for this season and make it the ‘Most Valuable Vaccinated Player,’ then he should do that. But he’s a bum. And I’m not going to waste any time worrying about that stuff.”
In an interview with popular sports analyst Pat McAfee, Rodgers acknowledged that he was “in the crosshairs of the woke mob right now”:
So before my final nail gets put in my cancel culture casket, I think I’d like to set the record straight on so many of the blatant lies that are out there about myself right now. And I appreciate the opportunity to tell my side of the story on here. First of all, I didn’t lie in the initial press conference. During that time, it was a very witch hunt that was going on across the league, where everybody in the media was so concerned about who was vaccinated and who wasn’t and what that meant and who was being selfish and who would talk about it and what it meant if they said it’s a personal decision, they shouldn’t have to disclose their own medical information and whatnot.
Rodgers said, “The non-vaxxed right is gonna champion me and the left is gonna cancel me. And the whole time, I don’t give a sh*t about either of them… Politics is a total sham. I’m not gonna go on FOX News just like I wouldn’t go on CNN. I have no desire to do that. The only desire I have is for people to take autonomy over their body in all forms and facets.”
“You have a right to make a decision about your body,” he continued. “That should be an unalienable right for all people to make an educated decision based on what they think is best for them.”
As if that individualistic stance weren’t enough to put him in the Cancel Culture crosshairs, as he put it, Rodgers half-jokingly revealed during a recent appearance on Monday Night Football that he has – horrors! – the late libertarian philosopher Ayn Rand’s influential novel Atlas Shrugged on his bookshelf. This revelation triggered leftist trolls everywhere, who took to social media – as they habitually do – to express their disgust. “People don’t read Atlas Shrugged, they just point to it on their shelf to excuse being an asshole,” one Twitter user snarked. “”Atlas Shrugged” has never been an inaccurate red flag,” tweeted another. “Aaron Rodgers just bragged that he has Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged on his bookshelf. Explains all his lying about being vaccinated and such. He’s one of those “screw everyone else before they can screw you” wackos. People like this are always a danger to others,” warned a third.
Probably zero of these social media complainers cares anything about sports or even knew who Rodgers was before they got wind of the unacceptable reading material he admitted to owning. In any case, if they expected a shamed Rodgers to cower before the Cancel Culture mob, they were frustrated, because unlike many celebrities, who are by nature desperate for public approval and apologize at the drop of a tweet, Rodgers doesn’t care about your feelings.
“It really comes down to, and pardon my French, giving less f**ks,” he asserted bluntly during a recent interview with McAfee. “I think it’s a majority that comes from aging, making mistakes, from failing, to being too sensitive at times… There’s a lot of joy in being unapologetically yourself.”
Indeed there is, but that is a joy the leftist mob wants to deny everyone who is insufficiently submissive to the woke mindset. As Rodgers put it: “I hope we can take a step back and quit lying, quit with the witch hunt and the canceling and realize this is a conversation to be had, not a controversy. Let’s move this forward with some love and connection, that’s what we need in this world. Let’s communicate instead of canceling someone or silencing someone. That gets us nowhere.”