As a lifelong fan and partial owner of the Green Bay Packers (along with about 360,000 other fans), I was devastated Wednesday morning to hear Aaron Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 and that he is also unvaccinated.
The latter news is profoundly disappointing, and not just because it could effectively end our fantastic season (since unvaccinated people are expected to suffer worse and longer-term COVID-19 symptoms than those who are vaccinated and getting breakthrough infections), but also because it makes me question the leadership of our team — our quarterback, coach, owners and the NFL — for not requiring vaccinations before the season began.
I remember listening to a press conference Rodgers gave in August, before the season began. He said he was “immunized,” a strange word to use, I thought, instead of “vaccinated,” but he quickly followed it by saying he would not “judge” unvaccinated players. I turned to my husband, a Packers fan through marriage, and said: That was a missed opportunity for leadership right there. If he’s vaccinated, he should say it and encourage his teammates to do so too.
ESPN reported Wednesday morning that before training camp, Rodgers asked the NFL if he could have an alternate treatment count as vaccination. The NFL denied his request and has considered him unvaccinated since the beginning of the season.
It’s not clear yet what’s behind his decision not to get vaccinated. Unless he’s afraid of needles, I’m starting to think it’s a sense of invincibility, but the virus doesn’t care if you’re young or old, a world-class athlete or not. It’s not killed by green juice smoothies or veganism. It can ravage your healthy body and has led to 750,000 deaths in this country and 5 million worldwide. Those are facts.
So the NFL has a lot to account for: If it knew he was not vaccinated, why was he allowed to endanger his fellow teammates and coaches? Why isn’t the NFL requiring vaccinations in a sport that depends on its players keeping their bodies and health in the best possible condition? Vaccines are a common-sense precaution. Even the NBA has arguably been stricter: A month ago, the league agreed to dock the pay of unvaccinated players forced to sit out in some cities due to pandemic precautions, whereas NFL players have only risked losing pay if their unvaccinated status leads to a canceled game that can’t be rescheduled.
Of course I wish Rodgers a speedy recovery, and I’m not just saying that as someone who wears his jersey with pride for every game. Growing up in Milwaukee, I’ve always lived for the Packers. I became one of the league’s many owners in its unique publicly owned, nonprofit model when my husband gifted me a share for Christmas in 2011, right before our first daughter was born.
But my team loyalty doesn’t blind me from seeing that the quarterback made a dumb and selfish choice when he didn’t get the vaccine — and then misled the public by his claim to be immunized. In a public health crisis, one person’s choice not to vaccinate endangers others, keeps the virus going and helps it mutate into deadlier strains. I don’t remember seeing Rodgers wearing a mask after games as he gave interviews to reporters. I do, however, remember seeing photos and videos of him partying this Halloween weekend, maskless, with other players from his team. Did they know he was unvaccinated? Second-string quarterback Jordan Love, who is now tasked with leading our team against the AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday, was reportedly at that party. And our third-string quarterback is also on the COVID-19 list, adding to uncertainty for the season if Love goes down.
At a press conference Wednesday morning, Packers coach Matt LaFleur dodged the important questions. “I’m not going to get into any of our players’ or coaches’ vaccination statuses,” he said.
Well, someone should have.
Carrie Friedman is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.