On Friday, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers spoke on The Pat McAfee Show. His appearance came two days after he was placed on Green Bay’s COVID-19 list and declared out for Week 9 because he tested positive and is unvaccinated, news that surprised anyone who had heard Rodgers say that he was “immunized” in August or who had observed him seemingly following the protocols assigned to vaccinated players, such as being allowed to hold an indoors press conference without a mask. That the latter was a violation of protocols, rather than an adherence to them, is now clear.
Several times over the course of a 46-minute interview, Rodgers put forth false information regarding the vaccine. He said that he was in the “crosshairs of the woke mob” and that he had followed all NFL protocols except for the ones he doesn’t like, namely the requirement that he wear a mask indoors. He said he believes those protocols are “shame-based” and “not based in science.” Rodgers quoted Martin Luther King Jr. as a justification for his actions; he said he’d done his own research and consulted with the podcast host Joe Rogan for medical advice; he referred to himself as a “critical thinker,” incorrectly linked COVID-19 vaccines with infertility, and advertised that he is taking ivermectin, a prescription medication that the FDA, NIH, and CDC say should not be used to treat COVID-19, though it has been considered a possible treatment for worms in the brain.
The following is a selection of what Rodgers said on McAfee’s show:
- Rodgers said that he chose a homeopathic treatment he believes boosted his immunity to COVID-19 over the approved vaccines because he is allergic to an ingredient in the two FDA-approved mRNA vaccines, produced by Pfizer and Moderna. He did not take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, he said, because it “got pulled due to clotting issues” in April and “was not an option at that point.” Use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was temporarily paused in April but resumed later that month after a review of available data by the CDC and FDA. Health experts found that the risk of clotting after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was roughly one in a million cases, mostly in women between the ages of 20 and 50.
- Rodgers declined to share what his homeopathic treatment entailed but described it as “a way to stimulate my immune system to create a defense against COVID,” which happens to be a very good way of describing how vaccines work.
- Rodgers said that the NFL “sent in this stooge early in training camp to shame [Green Bay] for being 19th in the league in vaccination rate.” He said that the NFL “thought I was a quack” and denied his appeal to be exempted from league policies for unvaccinated players.
- Rodgers used the phrase “my body, my choice.”
- He said that “people hate ivermectin” because pharmaceutical companies “can’t make any money off of it.”
- Rodgers said that he was being placed in a “cancel-culture casket.”
- Rodgers said that he is “not some anti-vaxx, flat-earther.” He also asked, “If the vaccine is so great, then how come people are still getting COVID and spreading COVID?” Rodgers said multiple times he believes he got the virus from a vaccinated person but did not offer evidence. “This idea that it’s the pandemic of the unvaccinated, it’s just a total lie,” he said. A CDC study of COVID-19 cases and outcomes across the U.S. from April 4 to July 17, 2021, found that 92 percent of positive cases, 92 percent of hospitalizations, and 91 percent of COVID-19-related deaths were reported among those not fully vaccinated.
- Rodgers said he was comfortable not wearing a mask around groups of vaccinated people because he believes their trust in the vaccine should make it irrelevant to those groups whether he’s masked or not. On clearly having violated the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols by giving press conferences indoors without a mask, Rodgers said he considered it his responsibility to go against a policy he doesn’t believe in.
“The great MLK said you have a moral obligation to object to unjust rules and rules that make no sense,” Rodgers said. “In my opinion, it makes no sense for me.”
In “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (a clause I was not expecting to write today), King defines an unjust law this way: “An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that is not binding on itself.” A just law, King wrote, “is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow, and that it is willing to follow itself.”
Those compelling Rodgers to follow the NFL’s protocols are also following the protocols themselves. Jordan Love, the Packers’ backup quarterback who will start Sunday in Rodgers’s stead, showed up to his Friday afternoon press conference wearing a mask. Love is vaccinated and not required by NFL policy to mask indoors, but wore the mask because he had been designated a close contact of a player who had tested positive—Rodgers. The use of King’s argument for nonviolent protest against segregation to promote Rodgers’s belief that he shouldn’t have to wear a mask inside is also wildly disproportionate.
Rodgers has a losing argument. By not masking indoors and potentially by attending events like the Packers’ Halloween party last weekend, he broke a rule that he had agreed to follow every time he showed up to work. He could be or possibly has been subject to fines as a result; the Packers could be subject to NFL discipline for improper enforcement of league protocols. (When the NFL initially responded to questions about Rodgers’s situation prior to his appearance on McAfee’s show, a league spokesperson placed the onus clearly on Green Bay to make sure protocols were being followed.)
By the letter of the NFL’s policy, it’s no more complex than that. But on McAfee’s show, Rodgers did what many do when determined to defend a losing argument: he changed its scope and made it about something else. This may or may not have been intentional—one of the lessons of this story should be that Aaron Rodgers: Critical Thinker is a character worth viewing skeptically—but if Rodgers’s goal was to avoid criticism for his actions, his remarks could be an effective way to shift the conversation. The NFL seems more likely to punish the Packers than Rodgers for his violations—the league doesn’t want to embroil itself in a culture war for which Rodgers has set the terms. Rodgers had few well-reasoned means of defending himself and his actions so, with a flurry of buzzwords, he tried to change the subject. Time will tell whether he gets away with that.