I grew up in Wisconsin. I was raised a Green Bay Packers fan. I endured the horrible teams of the late 80s and early 90s. I celebrated the Super Bowl wins in 1997 and 2011, enjoyed the play of quarterbacks Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers for almost 30 years. But loving a team is a strange thing. The team itself is not an entity. It is a group, made up of individuals. And each individual makes choices — some good, some bad.
Aaron Rodgers had been the starting quarterback of the Packers since 2008. During the past 14 years, he hasn’t been the perfect human being — who is? But he has generally seemed reasonable, if a bit of an egotist with a chip on his shoulder. But that doesn’t seem uncommon for a professional athlete.
Last week, that went off the rails. On Wednesday, as most people who have even a passing knowledge of football know by now, Rodgers tested positive for COVID. Then, reporters uncovered that Rodgers has never been vaccinated, even though, over the summer, when a reporter asked him if he was vaccinated, he replied, “Yeah, I’ve been immunized.” Then, he went on a rant during an interview, calling the concern about his vaccination a “witch hunt”, saying that all this was the fault of the “woke mob” and “cancel culture”. I disagree with his beliefs about vaccination — the science contradicts them. But what upsets me the most about Rodgers’ actions is his refusal to take responsibility for his own actions.
Sports fandom is a weird thing. There are different kinds of fans. Fans of an entire sport who will watch whichever teams are playing. Fans of a particular player who will transfer their allegiance to whichever team has them playing. And then there are the fans who love a particular team. Maybe they picked the team when they were young and have followed it their whole lives. Maybe their parent passed their allegiance down. Maybe, like me, it was the entire community, the entire family, who watched the team, discussed the team, and focused a significant part of their lives on the team. It’s a little silly on its face. Why should a person, a family, a community focus their lives on a sporting team — something which makes no impact on anyone’s real life, aside from the millions of dollars it makes the players, the owners, and the advertisers?
The truth is, being a sports fan is a conservative impulse — especially for those of us whose fandom was passed on to them. Not conservative in the current political sense of the term, necessarily, but in the classical sense of conserving the values of the past. By definition, my love of the Packers was passed on to me by my father, which was passed on to him by his father. This is about family, community, and culture. When the Packers score, when the Packers win a game, when the Packers claim a championship, I think first of my father and mother, my uncles and aunts, my cousins, my grandpa who passed away back in 2009. That is what this impulse means to me.
Of course, that impulse is enabled by the players — those who throw, catch, and run with the ball. And over the past 14 years, it has been enabled most of all by Rodgers. That is the contradiction of all this. It is about family, but it makes millionaires and billionaires ever richer. It is about tradition, but it can be disrupted by one individual’s foolish behavior.
I don’t know what I wish for the Packers this season. I want Rodgers to face consequences for his actions, and II want Rodgers to face consequences for his actions, and I want the Packers to succeed. Both cannot truly happen. I will watch and see along with everyone else. But whatever happens to him, I’ll still cross my fingers for a Packers Super Bowl victory. Maybe if it happens I’ll feel a little guilty…but I’ll be hoping for it nonetheless. That’s the curse of a true fan.
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