NFL·Opinion

Aaron Rodgers isn't being silenced for his stance on COVID-19 vaccines, just called out

As CBC Sports Senior Contributor Morgan Campbell writes, if you consume enough of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' rhetoric on COVID-19 vaccines, you can locate the gap between fact and opinion.

Packers quarterback on the wrong side of facts, writes Morgan Campbell

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers looks on from the sidelines during a game in January. (Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

This is a column by Morgan Campbell, who writes opinion for CBC Sports. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

Is Aaron Rodgers the greatest NFL quarterback to record just one Super Bowl win?

He certainly outranks Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson, but the top of that list is clogged with all-time greats like Steve Young, future hall-of-famers like Russell Wilson, and legends-in-the-making like Patrick Mahomes. I lean toward Wilson, but you might favour Brett Favre, whom Rodgers succeeded as the Green Bay Packers' starting pivot in 2008. Either way, a definitive answer is impossible. Your pick depends on your preferences, and it's always a matter of opinion.

Winning a second Super Bowl could vault Rodgers to a higher level of greatness, but his Packers dropped a 13-10 decision to the San Francisco 49ers in a playoff game last Saturday at Lambeau Field. Rodgers completed 20 of 29 passes for 225 yards, but after scoring a touchdown on the game's opening drive, Green Bay's offence stagnated, mustering just 58 total yards in the second half.

Look closer at Rodgers' numbers and a numbing lack of imagination emerges. Of Rodgers' 20 completions, nine went to Davante Adams, and nine more to running back Aaron Jones. That predictability helps explain their late-game slump.  Late in the fourth quarter, with the score tied 10-10 and the Packers facing a crucial third down, Rodgers heaved the ball downfield toward a double-covered Adams, who, not surprisingly, couldn't rescue his quarterback with a miracle catch.

WATCH | Bring It In panel reacts to Rodgers' COVID-19 vaccination stance:

Reacting to Aaron Rodgers’ stance on Covid-19 vaccines, Pat McAfee interview | Bring It In

7 months ago
Duration 10:30
The ‘Bring It In’ panel give their take on the news of Aaron Rodgers’ positive Covid case, after he claimed he was ‘immunized’ against Covid-19, and the comments he made on his recent appearance on the Pat McAfee Show. Host Morgan Campbell is joined by Dave Zirin and Meghan McPeak to break it all down.

Whether a different decision would have saved the game for Green Bay is a matter of speculation, but it's a point of fact that Packers receiver Allen Lazard was open, and in position to gain a first down if Rodgers had delivered him the ball. Afterward, Rodgers himself acknowledged his role in yet another disheartening Packers' playoff loss.

"I take my fair share of the blame tonight," Rodgers told reporters afterward.

The distinction between fact and opinion is critical in assessing the ride that Rodgers has taken us on this season.

Last April, he was the relatable face of State Farm Insurance commercials, a well-rounded and camera-friendly football star shortlisted to become the next host of Jeopardy!. But since November, when it became news that Rodgers had misled his team and the media about his COVID-19 vaccine status, his public persona transformed rapidly.

Now he's the aggrieved libertarian, straining under the weight of "cancel culture." The main problem, in Rodgers' telling, is a widespread effort to extinguish his opinions, simply because he's brave and smart enough to think differently.

But if you consume enough of Rodgers' rhetoric, you can locate the gap between fact and opinion. Apply some pressure there, and the platform upon which he has built this new public persona collapses.

Before we continue, a disclaimer:

I'm not going to quote Rodgers extensively. He has been clever enough to present himself as an innocent victim of the free speech police, denied the chance to air his beliefs.

But even as he gripes about being silenced, he pops up alongside the Manning Brothers during Monday Night Football, or on a podcast with NFL punter-turned-media personality Pat McAfee. In a recent interview with ESPN, Rodgers questioned CDC guidance on COVID-19, and cast some subtle doubt on Joe Biden's vote totals in last November's presidential election.

All of that content travels instantly across the internet. When Rodgers needs a media member to amplify his talking points at length, he has easy access to megaphones. He doesn't need mine, and I can't participate in a media relations campaign that USA Today's Nancy Armour, with the kind of corner-painting accuracy Rodgers couldn't muster on Saturday, calls his "misinfomercial."

WATCH | Cardiologist weighs in on Rodgers' COVID-19 claims:

Expert debunks some of Aaron Rodgers's COVID-19 claims

7 months ago
Duration 2:08
'Virtually all of what he said [about COVID-19] was untrue,' says Dr. Christopher Labos, a Canadian cardiologist with a degree in epidemiology, referring to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers's comments about the disease on Nov. 5. (Ross D. Franklin/The Associated Press)

Earlier this month, Rodgers lamented to reporter Kevin Van Valkenburg that, "they're censoring people, and they're shadow-banning people who have dissenting opinions about vaccines." Rodgers doesn't clarify who "they" are, but he can't mean ESPN, Van Valkenburg's employer, whose digital properties welcomed more than 120 million unique visitors in October alone.

If he means the reasonable backlash that followed the wilful misdirection on his vaccine status, remember there's a qualitative difference between taking a vaccine and undergoing whatever constituted Rodgers' "immunization" process. He might view them as interchangeable, but the NFL's rules didn't, and, more importantly, neither does science. None of it concerns Rodgers' opinions, except that he seems to fashion them from misinformation disguised as fact.

Truth is, any one of us could also stitch together bad data and faulty logic, state our conclusions with conviction, then claim that reasonable critiques are actually assaults on our rights.

It is a reality, after all, that the Cincinnati Bengals had offensive linemen on the field each of the nine times Joe Burrow was sacked during last Saturday's playoff win over Tennessee. In fact, every quarterback sack in every football game is a breakthrough event, occurring despite centres, guards, tackles and protection schemes.

From there, I could conclude that offensive linemen are useless, dangerous, or somewhere in between. If I were a head football coach, I could offer my quarterback an alternative form of protection — say, five septic tanks, each weighing 300 pounds. They cost less than offensive linemen, and they'll never suffer a concussion or a torn rotator cuff. These are all facts. Ask Google if you don't believe me.

If you were a reporter asking me whether my team even had an offensive line, I could look you in the eye and say, "Yeah, we have a quintet of 300-pounders in between the quarterback and the defence."

Also true, technically.

But if I advance that theory in front of anybody who knows anything about football, and they laugh me out of the room, are they censoring me? If the tactic I think will revolutionize pro football doesn't win me any job interviews, but earns me a rep as a charlatan who will get quarterbacks hurt, am I being shadow-banned? Or do people who know better simply recognize that I'm full of the same substance you'll find inside those septic tanks?

Exactly.

So Rodgers isn't being silenced, just called out because he has staked out so much territory on the wrong side of the facts, and he might be a little bitter that his "immunization" bait-and-switch backfired. In reframing the issue as an attack on his right to free speech, he's either acting in bad faith, or missing the point like it was Lazard on third down in the fourth quarter of a playoff game.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Morgan Campbell

Senior Contributor

Morgan Campbell joins CBC Sports as our first Senior Contributor after 18 standout years at the Toronto Star. In 2004 he won the National Newspaper Award for "Long Shots," a serial narrative about a high school basketball team from Scarborough. Later created, hosted and co-produced "Sportonomics," a weekly video series examining the business of Sport. And he spent his last two years at the Star authoring the Sports Prism initiative, a weekly feature covering the intersection of sports, race, business, politics and culture. Morgan is also a TedX lecturer, and a frequent contributor to several CBC platforms, including the extremely popular and sorely-missed Sports Culture Panel on CBC Radio Q. His work has been featured in the New York Times, the Literary Review of Canada, and the Best Canadian Sports Writing anthology.

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