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Empty stadiums? Canceled games? For now, Aaron Rodgers hopes for sports’ return while contemplating societal concerns

Empty stadiums? Canceled games? For now, Aaron Rodgers hopes for sports’ return while contemplating societal concerns

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"I still believe in myself and have a strong desire to play into my 40s," Aaron Rodgers said. "And I'm just not sure how that all works together (with the Packers) at this point."

GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers is trying not to think about it, but he’s not completely succeeding. He’s wondered about the future of American sports — including pro football — just like everyone else has.

But the Green Bay Packers quarterback has no more of an idea what the NFL’s 2020 season will look like than anyone else does at this point. Will it start on time, with the Packers’ road trip to Minneapolis to face the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sept. 13? Will there be no fans in the stands? Some fans? A full house? Will he be getting a cotton swab shoved to the back of his throat or up his nose several times a week? Will his temperature be taken after every quarter? Will he be allowed to high-five his teammates after a touchdown?

Frankly, for Rodgers, it’s too much to think about — especially when he considers the other, more serious questions that need to be asked about the COVID-19 pandemic and what life will look like moving forward as the United States and the national economy try to gradually return to some semblance of normalcy.

“I’m very hopeful we can have a season,” Rodgers said during a conference call with Wisconsin reporters late last week, when he addressed a variety of topics beyond the team’s decision to draft his heir apparent, Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, in the first round of the April NFL draft.

“I think the important thing to think about, though — which is more important than that — is the state of the country and the fact we have 36-plus million people on unemployment right now. We have rising poverty levels to go along with the unemployment. You have the (calls to the) suicide hotline up 8,000 percent. There are a lot of problems going on in the country right now associated with the fear around this pandemic.

“I hope that we can use some common sense moving forward and make decisions that are in the best interest of all people moving forward, and I hope that sports is a part of that at some point.”

Rodgers and his teammates, despite being scattered across the country, are continuing their virtual offseason program this week, even as the NFL has begun the process of gradually opening team facilities, which have been closed since mid-March and forced teams to conduct their drafts virtually from general managers’ and personnel staffers’ homes instead of in their traditional draft rooms at team headquarters.

The league also released its 2020 schedule earlier this month with the hope of games being played on time and with the stands full of spectators, but with the caveat that they are aware that their plans are likely to require adjustments. Packers team president/CEO Mark Murphy said in a letter to season ticketholders earlier this month that while the team is “hopeful” that the season will start on time with full stadiums,” the Packers “are also planning for a whole range of contingencies and examining the financial ramifications.”

With Major League Baseball exploring a variety of restrictions that it believes might be necessary to return to action, Rodgers was asked what he thought it might be like to play in an empty stadium.

“I haven’t let my mind go there at that point,” Rodgers replied. “I know there’s been a lot of conversation about it. It would definitely a weird situation to not have any fans in the stands. And I hope that’s not the reality.”

Packers second-year coach Matt LaFleur’s take was similar.

“I have not really put a whole lot of thought into it, to be honest with you,” LaFleur said during his conference call, which came following Rodgers and was just his second Q&A session with reporters since the NFL scouting combine in February. “Do I think it would be odd without fans? I do, but that might be the circumstances that we’re faced (with). Whatever it is, we’ll embrace it. I’m hoping they’re there, but if they’re not, we’ll just embrace it.”

For his part, Rodgers, who has been at his home in southern California since returning from a trip to Peru just before travel restrictions were put in place worldwide because of the pandemic, bemoaned some of the stay-at-home requirements that he compared to “house arrest.” He also wondered aloud about “the future of the country and the freedoms that we're allowed to have at this point.”

But, Rodgers said, he does believe sports have a unifying power, as evidenced by TV ratings for ESPN’s 10-episode “The Last Dance” documentary about Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls, or the unexpected popularity of Korean baseball broadcasts. Rodgers also pointed to how some sports are bringing back live competition, like the PGA, UFC and NASCAR.

“I think sports has always been something that's brought people together,” Rodgers said. “As you see with networks like ESPN, people are starving for anything, whether it's the Michael Jordan documentary or it's watching the Korean Baseball League on TV or UFC coming back with no fans. I think people are definitely looking for something to bring us together.”

Get ready for Packers season with a week-by-week breakdown of Green Bay's schedule

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