Skip to main content

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has tested positive for COVID-19.Rick Scuteri/The Associated Press

A few days before it was announced that he had tested positive for COVID, Aaron Rodgers made an announcement.

He’s partnering with a bitcoin outfit. From now on, the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback is going to take part of his salary in the alternative currency.

He made this declaration while dressed as John Wick, complete with black-on-black-on-black sharkskin suit, makeup wounds, while drinking a tumbler of brown liquor (which was probably actually kombucha). Rodgers has been growing his hair out for months to complete the look.

“I’m giving away $1-million worth of bitcoin right now,” Rodgers/Wick said. “All you have to do is drop your cash tag below, and we can go to the moon together.”

I don’t know what any of those things mean, but it sounds pretty weird to me.

In retrospect, this was an instance of social telegraphing. This wasn’t about going broke on the Internet. What Rodgers was actually saying was, “Maybe you, society, should not be taking life advice from me, a guy shilling a get-rich scheme while dressed up in my Halloween costume.”

And then, a few days later, he proved it.

Rodgers is famous for two things – throwing a ball really well and being a different sort of cat. He was a guest host of Jeopardy. He has his own book club.

Mind you, he’s not recommending good books (when someone tells you they are super into The Art of War, they have told you all you need to know), but it’s something.

The NFL loved that about Rodgers. It proved the league wasn’t just a bunch of knuckleheads. There was at least one provable deep thinker in the bunch.

Which may explain why Rodgers was allowed to continue being the face of the brand while sneaking around the NFL’s heavily advertised no-tolerance policy on anti-vaccine types. It also helps to show us where the argument over such things is headed in the coming months or (knock wood) years.

Rodgers is the new kind of unvaccinated person, one who doesn’t feel the need to talk about it. When asked, he won’t lie, but neither is he forthcoming with the truth.

When the issue came up a few months ago, Rodgers said a bunch of reasonable-sounding stuff about how difficult these things can be to talk about, and referred to himself as “immunized.” The choice of words was noted, but written off as a quirk from a guy who reads a lot of books.

As it turns out, by “immunized,” Rodgers meant that he was not vaccinated, but taking a homeopathic cocktail. One presumes it’s like bitcoin for the nervous system.

Rodgers tried to use his alternative-medicine approach to get an exemption to the league’s COVID policy. That was denied. As a result, he was banned from travelling with his teammates and also tested daily.

Think of how many people there are in and around an NFL football team. Hundreds. Everyone happily kept this secret.

Now that he’s got the bug, Rodgers has to spend 10 days away from the team. Then, as long as he tests negative, he can rejoin his colleagues and things go on as before.

It’s become clear that despite all the hard talk, no major league has an actual vaccine policy. The leagues will do what they can to make life difficult for employees who won’t comply, but they aren’t prepared to force anything.

The only person who’s become anything close to a vaccine martyr is basketball star Kyrie Irving, and that’s only because the city of New York’s workplace policies have compelled his bosses to get tough. (It’s also possible that New York may change the rules back, now that there’s a new mayor.)

What the leagues wanted was the appearance of total compliance, so that they would be allowed to travel freely and fill their arenas and stadiums again. Having achieved that goal, the details of that compliance don’t seem so important any more.

If some scrub on the coverage team is causing a problem, well, he will get the bum’s rush. But the three-time MVP? Accommodations can be made.

It’s also becoming clear that there is another group emerging in the vaccine discussion. On either end of the debate, there are the loudly compliant and loudly non-compliant. In the middle, there’s the quietly compliant (by far the largest group) and the quietly hesitant. But there’s also a fifth group – the weirdos and cool kids who endorse a policy of non-violent resistance.

Unlike the loudly non-compliant, this group is not political. It’s not left or right. It’s not trying to advance an agenda.

It just doesn’t want to get the vaxx, and for all sorts of reasons. The group’s followers are counting on a bunch of factors – primarily youth and physical fitness – to get them through. It’s hoping the vaccine does work, but on others. Herd immunity would be great. But for them? No. They respectfully decline.

A lot of these people appear to be part of the blue-checkmark brigade on social media – influencers of various types.

You wake up one morning and international recording artist Ed Sheeran has COVID. How’d that happen? He’s a nice, progressive sort of guy. Surely he’s vaxxed. Maybe it’s a breakthrough infection? Or maybe not? How would you know any more? This has become a question no one wants to ask for fear the right sort of people will give the wrong sort of answer.

Once enough of these people pile up, it leads to a suspicion. It’s the suspicion that our social betters, perhaps many of them, have decided to sit this one out: “Let the plebs get vaxxed. We have our home-delivery IV drips and our customized herbal concoctions. And if we do get it, so what? This kills the old and the weak. We are neither.”

As ever, sports is the leading edge of this wedge. At the beginning, it was the cultural establishment begging people to stay home and be safe (and, it went unsaid, watch sports). Now, sports is the canary in the anti-vaxx coalmine, daily reminding us that a bunch of people you presumed were vaxxed may, in fact, not be.

It’s not hard to see how that could unsettle the consensus most of us thought we’d achieved.

Because it’s one thing not to be like a bunch of frothing maniacs who are picketing hospitals, but it’s another thing not to be like Aaron Rodgers. He’s so rich and hooked in and reads actual books. If he thinks this is a bad idea, then what?

Then this goes on forever and we decide whether to end all restrictions and just live with it. Which is starting to look like the way we’re headed.

If so, thank sports for that, too.