Opinion: Aaron Rodgers 'silenced' from Super Bowl platform, and we can thank Robbie Gould for that
The San Francisco 49ers aren’t the only ones who ought to be giving thanks for Robbie Gould.
By eliminating Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers from the playoffs Saturday night, the 49ers kicker spared commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL a colossal headache. No longer do they have to fear Rodgers overshadowing the Super Bowl with his dangerous misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines proven to minimize the virus’ worst effects. They don’t have to grit their teeth and watch as Rodgers whines to the world – literally, given the global attention the Super Bowl commands – about how he and other unconventional intellects are being “silenced.”
Goodell and the NFL will never say this, of course. But after having largely been a model of responsibility over the past two years, all but requiring vaccines and sharing data with federal health officials to help better understand how the virus works, they had to have been sick at the possibility of Rodgers using their showcase event to undermine the good work they’ve done.
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Now, before anyone starts squawking about “freedom,” of course Rodgers has the right to decide whether he gets vaccinated or not. The problem is that he parrots conspiracy theories and junk science to rationalize that decision, then paints factual rebuttals to the nonsense as some grand plot to censor opposing views or stifle debate.
Rodgers can’t resist the opportunity to craft that narrative, or display his enlightened thinking. When he thought ESPN was teeing up a hit piece on him, he gave the reporter a half-hour last week to make sure he got his views across. He shows up on Pat McAfee’s show each week, occasionally making subtle digs with what he’s wearing or what’s on his bookshelf.
And the Super Bowl, had the Packers made it, would have been the ultimate platform to do that, providing Rodgers endless opportunities to right the wrongs of the world as he sees them.
"I don't want to apologize for being myself," Rodgers told ESPN. "I just want to be myself."
With two weeks between the conference championships and the Super Bowl, no topic is too small to be nitpicked to death. And if there’s something divisive or controversial, only a national emergency can command more time and discussion.
When Tom Brady and the New England Patriots reached Super Bowl LI after the quarterback was suspended for the first month of the season, “Deflategate” got as much attention as the Atlanta Falcons. Possibly more.
Brady was asked about it at every media availability. His feelings about the suspension, both when it occurred and now, all these months later. Whether he had regrets about pursuing the case as long as he had. What he had done during the suspension besides that vacation in Italy. Whether he had talked to Goodell. What he might say to the commissioner at the trophy presentation.
Brady’s teammates and coach Bill Belichick were asked about it, too. How they’d felt about Brady’s absence. How they had made up for Brady’s absence. Had Brady played the rest of the season with a chip on his shoulder. Whether Jimmy Garoppolo and/or Jacoby Brissett had proven themselves as worthy Brady heirs in his absence.
And that was for deflated footballs! Imagine if it was something of actual importance, like a virus that has killed more than 865,000 Americans and life-saving vaccines.
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Actually, you don’t have to imagine the frenzy there would be around Rodgers.
Green Bay’s unexpected loss starts the clock on what could be the most seismic decisions for the franchise in at least 13 years, possibly 30. Rodgers could play elsewhere next year or retire, and salary cap woes could force the dismantling of a Super Bowl-caliber roster. Yet within seconds of Gould’s game-winning field goal Saturday night, the internet was flooded with jokes at his expense.
“We all thought Aaron Rodgers had a shot, which has happened before.”
“Everyone stop making fun of Aaron Rodgers, he hates being needled.”
“Two things Aaron Rodgers can’t get into: Restaurants and the Super Bowl.”
“Throw Rogan” and “Covidiot” were the trending topics on Twitter late Saturday and early Sunday.
The Internet will continue to have its fun with Rodgers, and he’ll no doubt pop up somewhere during Super Bowl week. He is, after all, a heavy favorite to win his fourth NFL MVP award.
But he won't be able to turn the Super Bowl into an endless misinfomercial or airing of grievances. And for that, we all should be grateful for Robbie Gould.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.