Of all the surprises to unfold this past week, watching Aaron Rodgers use the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to try to justify his nonsense was the least expected.
The introspective quarterback has long been admired for his willingness to voice opinions that challenge the NFL’s version of conservative corporatism, which cherry-picks King’s words while profiting from the dynamics that drove his work. Case in point: When Drew Brees, then Saints quarterback, turned a question about players protesting racial injustice into a discussion about the flag, Rodgers responded quickly via social media.
“It has NEVER been about an anthem or a flag,” he wrote in an Instagram post that included a picture of him locking arms with teammates before a game along with “#wakeupamerica.”
Needless to say, that post was a hit with progressives.
So, yeah, after he had been outed as having played without being vaccinated, watching that guy spend 45 minutes on “The Pat McAfee Show” spitting out catchphrases like “crosshairs of the woke mob” and “my final nail gets put in my cancel culture casket” like he was a MAGA Pez dispenser was a bit jarring. But that’s not what stuck with me most.
It was Rodgers evoking King as he tried to explain why he misled the public about his vaccination status that was so revealing.
Before talking about some of the league’s COVID protocols that he considers nonsensical, Rodgers quoted: “The great MLK said, ‘You have a moral obligation to object to unjust rules and rules that made no sense.’”
There are inconsistencies with the NFL’s approach — no doubt. But then again, the NFL is still trying to determine what a catch is, so clumsy protocol policy is expected.
The rub is the Green Bay Packers quarterback presented his King paraphrase as if he was on the front lines challenging an unjust law, when in reality he was just sitting on the couch trying to find ways to avoid being held accountable for his words.
Now I’m not suggesting Rodgers, or anyone else for that matter, can’t quote King. But contexts matter.
In August, when asked if he was vaccinated against COVID-19, Rodgers responded, “Yeah, I’ve been immunized.” It was only after he tested positive for the virus earlier this week that the public learned that “immunized” meant Rodgers was taking medical advice from Joe Rogan and not one of the vaccines. He claims he didn’t lie and instead blamed the media for the confusion.
“Had there been a follow-up to my statement that I’ve been immunized, I would have responded with this: I would have said, ‘Look, I’m not some sort of anti-vax, flat-Earther. I am somebody who’s a critical thinker.'”
This is the equivalent of catching your boyfriend cheating on you and him saying, “If you had a follow-up to my statement I would have said, ‘I’m not sleeping with anyone else … but I am having sex with other people.’”
Rodgers even said he planned to give the “immunized” answer because “during that time, it was a witch hunt that was going on across the league, where everybody in the media was so concerned about who was vaccinated and who wasn’t and what that meant and who was being selfish and who would talk about it, what it meant if they said it’s a personal decision and they shouldn’t have to disclose their own medical information.”
He didn’t want that smoke, and look, I get it. We all get it.
There was — and remains — media frenzy around unvaccinated players.
The thing is, Rodgers purposefully gave a misleading answer because he didn’t want any follow-up questions. He tried to be slick, and when the jig was up, played the King card like a rank-and-file member of the conservative corporatism club we thought he didn’t want anything to do with. That, out of everything that transpired regarding Rodgers this week, is what I found the most disappointing.
For better or for worse, we are used to seeing folks take King’s words out of context to sanitize despicable decisions and policies. President Reagan infamously quoted the civil rights icon while fighting affirmative action, saying: “We want a colorblind society. A society that in the words of Dr. King judges people not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” It was amusing to watch Reagan and his kind quote that one passage from “I Have a Dream” but never any of the points where King spoke in support of reparations or affirmative action.
It was as if they were all just cherry-picking his words to serve themselves, not to honor him. Regardless of politics, I didn’t think Rodgers would do something like that. Now I know better.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.