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Jim Polzin: Aaron Rodgers misled us. Now he and the Packers have an unnecessary midseason mess
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GREEN BAY PACKERS | POSITIVE TEST FOR COVID-19

Jim Polzin: Aaron Rodgers misled us. Now he and the Packers have an unnecessary midseason mess

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A master at choosing his words carefully arrived at one of those moments on the afternoon of Aug. 26 inside the media auditorium at Lambeau Field.

Near the end of a 22-minute session with reporters, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was asked if he was vaccinated.

“Yeah,” he said, “I’ve been immunized.”

Check out some of the top performances from Green Bay's 24-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 28 in Week 8 of the NFL season at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

Whether or not Rodgers lied that day back in training camp is open for debate, though the first word to come out of his mouth after a point-blank question was “yeah.” What can’t be disputed is that, at the very least, Rodgers’ answer was misleading.

It also was unnecessary.

That news conference from 10 weeks ago was being examined for clues after news broke Wednesday morning that Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the day. Rodgers will miss the Packers’ game at Kansas City on Sunday because he’s considered unvaccinated by the NFL, and he could be unavailable for a home game against Seattle the following week.

The NFL Network reported Wednesday that Rodgers received a “homeopathic treatment from his personal doctor,” designed to raise his antibody levels. Two sources familiar with the situation confirmed to the State Journal that Rodgers received an alternate treatment prior to his arrival at training camp in July.

Why Rodgers chose the alternative treatment instead of a traditional vaccine is unclear and he has not addressed that topic to this point. But he had a chance to get out in front of this story before the season began and chose not to do so.

Perhaps Rodgers had seen the backlash that Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and others had faced for their anti-vaccine stances and that played a role in the three-time MVP’s choice of words back in August. But it’s not like Rodgers to avoid controversial subjects.

Being forthcoming in this instance would have helped Rodgers get in front of a story that, 2½ months later, now has blown up in his face. If he felt strongly enough about his decision, to the point where he petitioned the NFL for a waiver to its vaccination protocols, then why be deceitful when presented with an opportunity to state his case?

How Rodgers contracted the virus is unclear, but this positive test comes on the heels of an off weekend for the team during which he attended a Halloween party dressed up as the lead character in the “John Wick” movies. A photo Rodgers posted on his Instagram account shows him unmasked while posing with teammate Marcedes Lewis.

NFL-NFLPA COVID-19 protocols for the 2021 season indicate it’s a violation, subject to a $14,650 fine, for unvaccinated individuals to gather in groups that include more than three teammates or at a house gathering that includes more than 15 people “without the player and all guests wearing masks or PPE.”

Those same protocols say Rodgers is supposed to wear a mask at all times while inside the team facility. Yet while other unvaccinated teammates conduct all of their interviews over Zoom, Rodgers routinely shows up to his weekly news conference and postgame presser without a mask.

The Packers organization is equally complicit in that rule-breaking and seemingly would be subject to fines, but the NFL either doesn’t care or has been asleep at the wheel for two months while one of its biggest stars has been appearing unmasked in interviews twice a week.

Packers coach Matt LaFleur was left to speak for Rodgers — and the entire organization — about 2½ hours after learning of the positive test and did everything he could to punt on questions about whether or not his star quarterback was vaccinated.

But when asked if Rodgers’ quote about being “immunized” might be seen as misleading to fans, LaFleur said: “That’s a great question for Aaron. I’m not going to comment on it.”

Rodgers had lost part of the fan base during a drama-filled offseason in which it became clear he was unhappy with Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst and team president Mark Murphy. He admitted upon his return to Titletown he’d seriously considered retirement as an option rather than returning to the team for a 17th season.

However, Rodgers’ approval rating was on the rise as the Packers followed a humbling blowout loss to New Orleans in the season opener with seven consecutive victories, including a 24-21 win over previously unbeaten Arizona with a shorthanded lineup last Thursday. It’s always been difficult for some to embrace Rodgers because he followed a loveable legend in Brett Favre and can be seen as arrogant, but winning games can win over even the most critical of fans.

And that will be Rodgers’ only way back for some fans now. Deliver the franchise’s first Super Bowl title in 11 years and all will be forgiven, though the path to that championship may become more difficult if a Rodgers-less team loses a game or two and it ultimately costs the Packers a No. 1 seed and/or home-field advantage.

If there’s a silver lining to this news, it’s this: Rodgers is fortunate this happened now, in early November, rather than in mid-January. A positive COVID-19 test during the playoffs would have brought the Last Dance music screeching to a halt and left a master of choosing his words carefully trying to explain while a bunch of Packers fans plugged their ears.

Contact Jim Polzin at jpolzin@madison.com.

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