I have loved sports all my life, both playing and watching. And over the years I have rooted for several athletes whom I have admired not just for their prowess, but also for special qualities they exhibited.
As an adolescent, I idolized Frank Mahovlich, a star hockey player for my hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, and Willie Mays, arguably the greatest baseball player of all time. A little later, when I was 14, I fell under the spell of Muhammad Ali (then still Cassius Clay).
All three proved to be admirable human beings. Mahovlich served for years in the Canadian Senate. Mays has led an exemplary life and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As a civil rights activist and humanitarian, Muhammad Ali became one of the seminal figures of the 20th century. (I heartily recommend a visit to the Muhammed Ali Museum in Louisville.)
Until recently, I believed Aaron Rodgers might belong with that group. I can be silly about sports sometimes. I not only followed Rodgers’ mercurial career as quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, but I also followed his love life as reported on the internet; visited his Malibu home online; enjoyed his laid-back, irreverent personality on ubiquitous TV commercials; noted his support of charities; and applauded his win on Celebrity Jeopardy! and two-week stint hosting the show.
Here was a guy on top of his game who was modest, personable, engaged, empathetic, and intelligent. Or so I thought.
Then he lied about being vaccinated. In doing so, he endangered his teammates and others with whom he came in contact and set a horrible example for his millions of fans, many of whom are kids.
In August, when asked by a reporter if he had been vaccinated, Rodgers responded that he had been “immunized.”
In later interviews after contracting COVID-19, he admitted that instead of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine— which would truly have made him immunized—he had been taking ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug used on animals, and hydroxychloroquine, a favorite Trump drug roundly disproven effective on the virus. He also mentioned that he was taking medical advice from, among others, Joe Rogan—a comedian, podcaster, and conspiracy spreader.
How anyone so smart could be so stupid is beyond me. It takes a ship full of arrogance to believe one could find a cocktail to prevent COVID-19 on the internet more effective than the vaccine developed by the world’s top infectious disease scientists.
How will all this play out? Will Rodgers lose his lucrative endorsements? Will he be shunned by teammates and other athletes? Will it affect his mental health and playing performance?
Actually, I don’t care. He has done significant damage to the drive to get people vaccinated, to save lives, and to revitalize our economy. I wish him luck, but that’s all.
As for me, I’m keeping my eye out for a new sports hero who is not a narcissist and who possesses good judgement, compassion, and concern for the wellbeing of his fellow humans.