men late July, as NFL players across the country dragged their battered bodies back to preseason camp, the Green Bay Packers put up a slow bid. video with Aaron Rodgers on social media. “Let’s do this,” read the caption, as the quarterback, dressed in a wife beater tucked into a pair of relaxed-fit denim jeans, hair swept back, faceless scruff, strode purposefully across a parking lot. Of course the clip was a tribute to Nicolas Cage’s performance in the 1997 action classic Con Air. A few weeks later, Rodgers revealed that Cage’s head had been busted. The bust now sits in Rodgers’ locker, next to his shoulder pad, calmly watching as the NFL’s reigning MVP tackles the grueling business of trying to figure out a cross-cultural significance.
Is Rodgers the most interesting athlete in America, or the one that worries him the most? For much of the 38-year-old’s NFL career — now entering its 18th season — the question wasn’t even present. Quarterbacks are the focal point of every football team, usually the only players with the star power to conquer the sport. But even when he rose to prominence nearly a decade ago, leading the Packers to the Super Bowl in 2011 and snagging two league MVP awards in 2011 and 2014, Rodgers remained a highly talented but mostly competitive most invincible in American sports. If he was seen as anything away from the pitch, he was a social activist. He went on record with his support for The Enough Project, a non-profit initiative that raises awareness about the use of conflict minerals in mobile phone batteries. He traveled to India with the Starkey Hearing Foundation to fit deaf children with hearing aids, giving him a chance to see the Dalai Lama. And in 2015, after fans broke a moment of silence at a Packers game in disrespect for the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris with the cry “Muslims suck! It’s that kind of harmful ideology that I think puts us in the position we are in today, as a world,” he said.
Over the past two years, however, as the on-field accolades have piled up (he was named MVP in 2020 and again last season) without ever achieving any gains for the team leading him (Green Bay has of the Super Bowl in each of the past three seasons), Rodgers is the epitome of endless sports clichés: the athlete who can’t be mentioned in news reports without the qualifier “controversial.” to add. The cleanskin quarterback, an avatar of the league’s “good guys,” was transformed into a symbol of national polarization. Rather than earnestly decrying the moral decay of cobalt mining in central Africa, Rodgers is more likely to be found these days on Joe Rogan’s podcast or The Pat McAfee Show, complaining about the “woke mob.” There is talking out and it is this: talking incessantly, without pause, and mostly about yourself.
Perhaps disappointingly, Rodgers’ views on vaccination cause this journey from progressive ally to all-purpose cultural punching bag. Last summer Rodgers claimed, with pedantic attention to word choice, that he was “immunized” against Covid-19; late last year it emerged that he had not been vaccinated against the virus (he claimed immunization on the basis of alternative treatment from his personal doctor) and misrepresented his inoculation status to the league and his teammates, prompting the NFL to fine to cut him for violating his Covid protocol. This contretemps was enough to radicalize Rodgers, turning him into the kind of self-proclaimed victimizer who long praises his own “culture fund” as he does his best to push the infamous Covid cure Ivermectin.
In a trademark move, however, Rodgers has tried to rise above the hype, even as he continues to stoke the fires of cultural discontent. “I can honestly say to all my haters and haters, I have no bitterness towards you, I just love and respect where you are in life and the different emotions that go into it on our personality and our decision-making and our belief system on a day-to-day basis,” he told Pat McAfee last week.
McAfee, a former football player and wrestling commentator whose radio show, which is also broadcast live on YouTube, regularly features extended, free-flowing conversations with Rodgers, is a particularly important ally for the Packers star. Rodgers now holds a high position in the middle division that is consolidated around figures like McAfee, Rogan (perhaps the most vocal of the self-described vaccine skeptics), and Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports – a kind of muse for the brothers. The signature mark of this world, and what distinguishes it from previous iterations of fratboy media, is that it’s meant to embrace, rather than reject, intellect and emotion, that whole messy business of thoughts and feelings to have; Rodgers often talks about his love of reading (the only two places he goes in Green Bay, he said recently, are “the grocery store and Barnes & Noble”), and presents his refusal to vaccinate as a virtue. intellectual, as the result of deep research and thought. But someone who likes books probably wouldn’t spend so much time telling McAfee how much they like books. They would be at home, to read.
It is essential to the Rodgers myth that we see him not only as a fighter, but as someone with a rich inner life: the reason he can do it on the field is because he spent so much time off it “working on his own”. Rodgers didn’t get off easy: a star quarterback in high school, he was rejected by every top-tier college football program (though the University of Illinois offered him a spot as a walk-on), and only earned a transfer to. University of California through the network of community colleges. He grew up in a religious family in the town of Chico in inland northern California; after that he rejected organized religion. Throughout his life Rodgers has been committed to doing things his own way, to seeking his own truth. Now, though, he’s an incredibly wealthy professional athlete — he recently signed a three-year, $150 contract with the Packers to keep him in his 40s, enough to take his career earnings close to half a billion dollars by now. he quits.
With success came a kind of corny self-obsession. In July Rodgers shared a photo of his first tattoo, which looks like the kind of thing you might come up with if you were a conspiracy theorist trying to start an accounting firm, telling his 2 million followers on Instagram: “There’s a deep meaning and meaning. story and connection to every aspect of this piece of art, and I’ll share a little more about that one day.”
Rodgers has also been vocal about his use of ayahuasca: twice now he has descended the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu and then taken the psychoactive brew, creating an unlikely spiritual connection between the Sacred Valley and the Lambeau Field. Rodgers claims that ayahuasca opened his mind (“It changes the way you look at the world, you feel much more connected”) and made him enjoy football again. These two trips to Peru have brought back to the fore his own need for “self-love” (“I love myself. Period. Period. Period.”), a point Rodgers made at length recently in an interview with Aubrey Marcus, a suicidal person. described an “author, podcaster, entrepreneur, filmmaker, philosopher, poet, husband” who is also the founder of Onnit, a “disruptive global brand” based on a “holistic health philosophy” called “Total Human Optimization”.
As sick as this kind of sales pitch is (how long until we get an Aaron Rodgers-endorsed nootropic?), “absolute human maximization” provides a neat summary of what Rodgers seems to be going through . Desperately, it seems, the man is searching for something, anything, to make himself interesting, to show us that he is much more than just an athlete. Look at me, he seems to be telling us, and he respects the deep non-football mentality within this champion body.
At the same time Rodgers has tried to market himself as someone of any kind. Last year’s stint was as a guest host on Jeopardy!, which led to exciting calls for him to be Alex Trebek’s front man on the game show. The silly mustache he wore for a few years (crazy man!). There’s a social media feed that’s obsessed with golf clips and memes from The Office, the equivalent of a burger and fries. Then, of course, there are attempts at crowd-pleasing internet humor, like that preseason video. To be clear, there’s something definitely lame about a 38-year-old man fishing for people like a Con Air parody video. The ironic Nicolas Cage tribute may be the deadliest joke on the internet. Perhaps this is simply what it means to be a contrarian, to live a life against the grain, to reject convention and fashion: perhaps there is a certain courage – the courage of the elite athlete – that comes from it. be middle aged in our year. Lord 2022 and Harlem Shake upload.
But this is the Rodgers way: self-disclosure in the service of maximum disclosure. Things have been quieter for the NFL since the traumas of the Trump-Kaepernick years: the refusal of players to stand for the national anthem or accept the hegemony of the police state no longer attracts national news. But the tension at the heart of the NFL remains. Rodgers, who showed public support for Kaepernick and players who kneeled for the anthem (and also emphasized, in the characteristic threading of the needle, that “We love and support and respect the troops”), offered a reconciliation of sorts the rival. torn siege camps between conservatives and progressives. The hero of the field and culture, the fetishist of individual rights who also wants the collective to work, a footballer with feelings, a winner with a sense of humor, a jock who fancies himself a nerd, Rodgers offers a third way – the way of “questions that put” contrarianism, in which everyone can find a capacious home for their inner contradictions. He wears the face of reason as he shouts – a hero that all of America can get behind.