Cal football and Aaron Rodgers: The epicenter of the COVID-19 sports universe

Photo of Aaron Rodgers
Keith Allison/Creative Commons

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Cal football is cursed. No, not for that reason, or that one, or the other one.

Right now, the program is dealing with an undisclosed number of COVID-19 cases and battling what seems to be an issue of city and university protocol in regards to who can and cannot play on Saturday against USC. That is, if Cal football can even field a team.

The national spotlight is on the Bears right now. Cal football went through a similar debacle last year, when huge swaths of the team were put in tracking protocol after cases surfaced. Berkeley, notoriously one of America’s most liberal and COVID-19-concious cities, is used to catching stray bullets from conservative networks when situations like this occur. The spotlight may have started to become unbearable for the Bears.

Someone, somewhere, probably wished for a distraction for the media to focus on, to just give Cal some breathing room. The monkey’s paw curled.

Less than 24 hours after news broke about the Bears’ COVID-19 cases, one of Cal’s most prominent alums decided to take the stage to spread anti-vaccine propaganda. It was the blue and gold’s very own, Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers, who tested positive for COVID-19, has been under fire all week after reportedly lying about his vaccination status. Rodgers, who is not vaccinated, previously stated he was “immunized” but notably, he danced around using the word “vaccinated.”  His use of homeopathic methods that would supposedly boost his immune system to fight the virus did not grant him the same vaccinated status as players in the league who were, well, actually vaccinated. As soon as he came forward with his diagnosis and treatment plan, he immediately started claiming that the witch hunt was on. To Rodgers, this all felt like an injustice.

In fact, Rodgers felt so wronged by the NFL that he decided to make an appearance on the The Pat McAfee Show to discuss his feelings. And with that, the show began.

Immediately, Rodgers hit all the big time talking points and blamed the usual suspects:  He criticized the “woke mob” and doubled down on his claim of this being a witch hunt. At some point he mentioned ‘cancel culture.’ Then inexplicably, he invoked Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The great MLK said, ‘You have a moral obligation to object to unjust rules and rules that make no sense,’” Rodgers said to McAfee.

And he wasn’t even close to done.

“What about my body, my choice?” Rodgers said. “What about making the best decision for my circumstance?”

Invoking a leader of the Civil rights movement and the pro-choice movement to defend a non-vaccinated status is horrific, embarassing and frankly unthinkable — especially considering this rhetoric was used as an excuse to not protect his fellow citizens.

Following up on his ‘homeopathic’ treatments, Rodgers suggested that we all take a look at the research behind Ivermectin, a drug that he has been taking himself. You know, the drug that is often intended for horses.

“Why do people hate Ivermectin?” he continued, “Not just because Trump championed it, but because it’s a cheap generic, and you can’t make any money off of it.”

Nevermind the fact that it’s generally ineffective against COVID-19, but swaths of people taking Ivermectin have also caused surges in poison center calls over overdoses.

Rodgers went on to say how he consulted Joe Rogan, a notoriously ‘out-there’ podcaster, and how he also ‘did his own research’ about the vaccine in the off-season. He claims that he was allergic to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and that the Johnson and Johnson’s “issue” with blood clotting ruled them out entirely.

But if that were really the case, why did Rodgers hide his status? Why was he not front about his concerns, especially if it were only allergy concerns that prevented him from taking the vaccine?

Rodgers, desperate to get a vaccinated status without being vaccinated, took his ‘research’ to the NFL and argued his case.

“They thought I was a quack,” he said on the podcast.

Rodgers’ viewpoints about bodily autonomy are, in some ways, valid. But the overall message is not. It’s unlikely that criticism of Rodgers will change anyone’s viewpoints about the vaccine — we’re approaching a year of them being available. But it is likely that Rodger’s anti-vax sentiment may cause other anti-vaxers to double down.

What does matter is what Rodgers does moving forward. He has changed his support base, and now what and who he endorses going forward may carry a little more weight. Rodgers called politics a “sham” in his interview today, but that doesn’t change that people will perceive his message as inherently political.

Between the developing situation in the Cal football program (which seems to look bleaker by the minute) and it’s NFL MVP alum spewing misinformation on a podcast, Berkeley is going to see a lot of attention in the coming days.

An unprecedented number of breakthrough cases, an MVP under fire and the spotlight fixed firmly on the Bay. If there is any silver lining, it’s this: This Cal team is as resilient as we’ve seen in the past.

Jesse Stewart covers football. Contact him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @jessedstew.