Saturday, January 12, 2013

What's wrong with Aaron Rodgers, and why do we put up with it? (Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!)

So I'm eating Apple Jacks this morning and some toast, and thinking to myself how I just can't wash down toast, which leaves my mouth inordinately dry, with coffee, which doesn't mix well with food (if you drink coffee while eating food you ought to be banished to someplace where civilization hasn't arrived yet, or where civilization has come and gone and left behind the detritus of a once-proud society.  Like Georgia, where they boil peanuts and call that food.)

Anyway, I went to read Bill Simmons' mailbag because it was going to talk about the NFL Playoffs, and yes, I don't get many of the insider references he makes and yes, I find some of the forced vulgarity a little, well, forced

(It's like Bill Simmons is by now playing a character named "Bill Simmons."  If you want to know how to make it big in the world of sports, here is what you have to do:  You have to imagine that you are a character on a sitcom about how you made it big in the world of sports, and you have to act exactly like that character would if that character were featured on a very special episode of your show, one on which Cee Lo guest stars.  If you can do that, you will make it big in the world of sports.)

In Bill Simmons' mailbag, he first (A) goes on about how on the Internet you're not supposed to write long stuff because people supposedly have short attention spans, and (B) he starts taking emails from people about how Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers holds grudges and that 60 Minutes did a whole piece on that.

Which (A) I did that, too, only first and better, in my groundbreaking investigative piece Why Not Use All The Words? wherein I invented {TS/DR}.

And (B) OH MY GOD I INVENTED THIS THING are you kidding me?  And it's scary that it's gotten this far, which is the larger point.

It's scary that we like Aaron Rodgers -- or that you like him, because I don't. Scary, for what it says about us.

Back on October 18, 2010,  when I had my sports blog which is now a literary magazine featuring wildly inventive short stories that everyone will love and should read every day, I did a then-ongoing feature called "The Weekend Happened" in which I'd talk about things I did over the weekend including some sports things.  In a post called "A-Rodg vs. McCarthy, Catbugs, and What's Right About The BCS" I wrote about a quarterback sneak that Rodgers had done against the Dolphins and more interestingly, the mini-feud that resulted as he and his coaches each tried to claim credit for the play.  Here's what I said:

Even more interesting is the continued sniping back and forth between A-Rodg and coach Mike "Mike" McCarthy. SI pointed out not long ago that there was bad blood between Rodgers and McCarthy when McCarthy first became the head coach: Rodgers hadn't forgotten that McCarthy was part of the group that took Alex Smith over him for the 49ers.

 THAT, in turn, started an ongoing feature called "Aaron Rodgers Doesn't Like," in which I tallied up all the people that The Anointed One publicly disliked, a list that includes but is not limited to:

His coach

Clay Mathews and Packer players who went to a party in the Wisconsin Dells
Packer fans
His offensive game planners
Brett Favre (which is totally understandable except that Rodgers lied about his smirking in a photo background; Rodgers is an accomplished photobomber who'd I'd expect knew exactly what he was doing)
The Packers' throwback uniforms
The Packers' regular uniforms
Any teammate who makes a mistake (excepting perhaps quarterbacks who fumble away victory like someone whose name rhymes with Shmaron Shmodgers)

Cancer patients.  THIS ONE DESERVES ITS OWN LINE.  In case you missed it, A-Rodg blew past an elderly cancer patient who'd waited a long time for his autograph.  Just whipped by her.  He's a big deal, you know? Get out of his face with your chemo.  

Jessica Szohr
Players on injured reserve.  EXCUSE ME, his own teammates who are on injured reserve.
His special teams' teammates, who he told David Letterman he didn't trust to make a play in the Super Bowl.
Christina Aguilera and/or "that chick from Glee"
His coach, I know I said that before but this was an all-new, years-later hatred.
Mark Sanchez in GQ.
Old people
The entire NFC side in that one Pro Bowl
People who voted for Drew Brees the year he won the MVP (maybe, I'm admittedly speculating here but it's within the pattern don't you think?)

I should note that there are THINGS HE DOES LIKE:

Ryan Braun's magic urine that creates steroids if put in a refrigerator for a weekend.
 That all culminated in a post where Rodgers, for the umpteenth time, made a comment about how he'd been passed over in the draft -- going 25th as opposed to 1st, which he figured was his God-given right-- at which point I said:

Aaron Rodgers.  You feel unloved, or felt unloved, and have spent most of your pro career reminding people of it, and seemingly forgetting that:

You were basically handed the keys to the city, and a historic football franchise, by a
management team that then hired a public relations firm to badmouth your predecessor and ensure you would be beloved.

You have been
linked to beautiful women and perhaps even dated them.  

You
were paid $13,200,000 in 2008 alone to play. a. game.

The team, and coach, and management you keep knocking for letting you fall that far (and the league they play in) have guaranteed you pay of at least $20,000,000.

Guaranteed.  You are 28 years old.  If you live to be 100, you could spend $277,776 per year and not run out of money.

You have been voted the Most Valuable Player by the league you want to keep knocking and reminding that you slipped on draft day.


We all know that you didn't like sitting there until Green Bay picked you.  But keeping in mind everything I just said:

SHUT UP ABOUT IT ALREADY.

If you wanted proof that people want you to play
a game for a living, you have it.  If you wanted public recognition that you are God's Gift to Football, you have it.  Fame, fortune, adulation, a spot in the Packer Hall of Fame: it's all yours.  Quit bitching about how much better it should have been.

Because ALSO: In your life, you won the "Insight Bowl," lost the big game against USC in your junior year (blowing it yourself, in part), lost to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl, lost your first playoff game as a Packer when you fumbled in overtime, and lost against the Giants last year in round one of the NFC playoffs, becoming only the second Packer quarterback to lose at home in the playoffs.  You are thus, by my count, 5-4 in big games, with a Super Bowl win coming against a team that cared so little about the game they went out drinking all week before it... so maybe you were picked
exactly where you belonged.

 And at that point, in August, I more or less stopped covering Aaron Rodgers' extreme dislikes of people, as I got sick of hearing a 28-year-old superstar repeatedly do what amounts to whining.

"People don't love me enough.  I had to prove myself to earn a starting job."  BLAH BLAH BLAH Screw you,  Aaron Rodgers.

(Aaron Rodgers is the other reason I openly root against the Green Bay Packers, not least because as far as I can tell he welched on a bet to wear a 49ers jersey for a week if he lost that opening week game that he did, in fact, lose.)

So imagine my surprise when I learned that I had created a national phenomenon





(Life is more fun when you insert mahna mahna everytime you say phenomenon, or words like it.  Even though that song comes from a porn film.)

(Or especially because of that.)

Anyway, 60 Minutes did a whole piece on Aaron Rodgers not liking everybody in the entire freaking world, back in November, and somehow I was not interviewed for that even though I created this myself.

60 Minutes reported that Rodgers is "overly sensitive," and Rodgers, completely against character, took that the wrong way and held a grudge against 60 Minutes, because Aaron Rodgers not only is the sports world's biggest baby, but he also does not understand irony even a little bit.

But now, even though the world, thanks to some geezers on a show nobody watches, agree with me that Aaron Rodgers doesn't like anybody, I am dismayed to see that this is considered to be a good thing.

Not only is it the storyline leading up to today's 49ers-Packers playoff game in San Francisco (The Boston Globe: "Packers Rodgers gets chance to make 49ers Pay") but it is embraced by fans, who wrote in to Bill Simmons and talked up Rodgers' insane, innate ability to hold a grudge forever.




Grantland likes to talk about something they refer to as "Nobody Believes In Us," a motivational line that was mostly used in the past by the New York Giants, who had a habit of sneaking into the playoffs at 9-7 and then going on to beat the only undefeated team to ever make the Super Bowl, twice.  Teams and athletes use this, apparently, as a motivator: you don't believe in us, I'm going to prove you wrong.

There's nothing wrong with that, really.  If a team or a person is not being given the credit it deserves, using that lack of credit can be a big tool in your box:  I'll show them.  That's sort of a Rudy-fication of motivation. (TM).

As Grantland pointed out,  though, Nobody Believes In Us starts to get a little ridiculous when you're the New York Giants and you've won 2 Super Bowls in recent years, or you're the Packers and you went 15-1 last year and are universally lauded as being a great team.

Aaron Rodgers, though, goes beyond Nobody Believes In Us, and takes it to a darker place, too.  It's not just Nobody Believes In Us, not anymore,  if it ever was.  Is there even a tiny slice of Aaron Rodgers' mind that could credibly, objectively,  believe that nobody believes in him? Is there even the smallest boson in his body that could hold onto the idea that someone, somewhere, thinks that the 49ers were smart not to take him or that Green Bay made the wrong move in letting Favre go?

(For the record: I think so.  They should've kept Favre one or two more years.)

No.

That is not possible.

For the past few years, especially, Rodgers has been put on a pedestal above almost every active player and above almost every inactive player.  This year alone, Rodgers was mentioned as a potential league MVP even though Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson came back from career-threatening injuries and led their teams to the playoffs... among other contenders such as J.J. Watt who seemed to singlehandedly carry the ever-fading Houston Texans into the playoffs.  Somehow, Rodgers was mentioned in that mix again as a potential MVP, and that is because everyone everywhere in the entire universes agrees that Rodgers is one of the best, if not the best,  ever to play quarterback in the NFL.

So why the grudge?

Why is Aaron Rodgers incapable of being a decent person?

This isn't about heat-of-the-moment carping at teammates, or about wanting to be the best.  This is about Aaron Rodgers blowing past cancer survivors without making eye contact, or using obviously premeditated comments about his teammates on national TV to imply that they would have blown the Super Bowl if not for Rodgers' mere existence.

This is about Rodgers being a smug jerk who once felt himself slighted and has decided to spend the rest of his life not just proving those (probably imaginary) detractors wrong, but openly putting other people down to make himself feel better.

He's even making money off of it:  Aaron Rodgers' entire commercial career, such as it is, is built on him proving how great he is (he can throw a football into a moving truck!) while simultaneously maintaining the idea that people don't like him (the classroom where kids mock him for playing football)



and steal his ideas, like the commercials where his stupid wrestling-belt celebration is done by others.  Each of those commercials is shaped around the same idea:  nobody respects Aaron Rodgers and he has to constantly prove himself.

But is there a more false concept anywhere in sports than that?

Remember when Peyton Manning made a bunch of commercials that highlighted him?  Remember the persona he created?




 The one I remember best is the one where he was in a hotel, obviously playing on the road, and people were insulting him and he just didn't get it, obliviously thanking them and being in a great mood.

I'm no fan of Saint Peyton, especially since he threw in with "Papa John" and helped a man with a private 22-hole golf course complain about the cost of making sure his employees don't die in the street for lack of health insurance, but at the very least, St. Peyton understood public perception and worked it well.  There's no other way a guy who makes millions of dollars and gives little back could maintain the same level of good will that St. Peyton has, other than knowing how to operate in the constantly-on world we are in.

But Aaron Rodgers represents a different sort of take on that.  He is somehow managing to operate as a villain without being taken as one; he is Gru, the person we are supposed to identify with even though he is evil.



But Gru, at least, turned things around.  After a lifetime of evil, Gru's latest scheme saw him end up [SPOILER ALERT! FOR A MOVIE I HAVE WATCHED 12 TIMES THIS WEEK SO IT'S NO WONDER I USED IT AS A METAPHOR!] trying to save the little girls and putting the moon back, and being revered as a superhero at the end.  Apparently one who was poor, though that went unsaid.

Gru was able to escape infamy because nobody knew who he was.  Rodgers is world famous. How many other sports figures can you think of that manage to openly deride teammates, fans, other players, cancer survivors, make millions, and still be held to the level of esteem that Rodgers is?

There are sports figures who are reviled for, apparently, being successful: Derek Jeter, for example.   There are those who are disliked for their actions (Tiger Woods, Brett Favre, Barry Bonds) and those who somehow overcome horrible actions to rise in esteem again (Michael Vick, Ray Lewis).  I've never been clear on how those players come back or how people choose which ones to let back in or not.

But with Aaron Rodgers, he's never even been out.  This is a guy who was taken as the 25th overall selection in the draft -- maybe he wanted to be number one, but he wasn't, so 25th is still not terrible-- and who shortly thereafter was given the franchise, just given it over a Super Bowl winner thrice-consecutive NFL MVP, a guy who has always been held in reasonable-to-high esteem, and he has never given any indication that he understands that or wants to in any way recognize it.

Worse than that is that he keeps getting worse than that, as in the latest round of 49ers-revenge, when he is making the game be about him and his revenge instead of his teammates and their success and/or march to the Super Bowl.

This is a way of turning attention to him, and keeping it on him, and what's particularly pernicious about it is that attention has rarely been off of Aaron Rodgers and he has rarely been criticized, period.

So why the grudges?

And more importantly for me, why the love for the grudges?

That's what's really amazing.  I can say of Rodgers that he is a great quarterback but (I think) an awful person, and recognize him for that.  But Packer fans, and football fans in general, seem unwilling or unable to recognize that second part, the part about where he repeatedly stands up for the wrong side and/or fails to recognize the right side, where he throws his teammates, coaches, fans under the bus and focuses on himself...

...this 49ers game is my chance for revenge!  Bwahahahahahha!...

...and in fact laud him for it.

Laud him for it.

It's like we all decided we missed Nixon's enemies' list and Nixon, and so we found a good-looking youngster to embody our national insecurity and make it an almost-living thing.

There's probably a larger point here.  There's probably something I could say about how Rodgers' rise to prominence, a rise accompanied by a neverending grudge match in which he will say or do or ignore anyone on his quest for recognition and revenge is paralleled by an ongoing war that was started to get revenge on Osama Bin Laden and which has led the United States to unparalleled depths of torture, rendition, soldier deaths, and extreme debt, the latter of which has caused "conservatives" to decide that the poor must suffer so that the rich can continue funding overseas wars that should have never been started, let alone ended years ago.

There's probably a parallel that I could cite to to claim a meaner, darker America was created and molded by the Worst President Ever and his "conservative" cronies, an America that lends money to banks only to get sued for doing so, an America that mocks education with "No Child Left Behind" and then defunds schools, an America that openly flirted with a Rick Santorum presidency even though he makes his money off hospitals that torture and kill special needs kids, an America that sent its Republican candidate overseas last year to mock the London games and swear outside Polish war memorials while raising obscene amounts of money to try to oligarchize our world.

It's in that America that Aaron Rodgers rose to fame and glory -- an America that felt wounded and betrayed and took that wounding and betrayal and sought not just to rectify it, but to mold the entire world into a shape where certain people at the top wouldn't be subject to such wounding and betrayal and the rest of us were just cannon fodder for those certain people, role players who would die in a bunker or pay higher taxes or suffer without insurance while the top 1% partied on with celebrities and riches.

It's in that world that Aaron Rodgers is able to still hold a grudge, despite his millions, his recognition, his Super Bowl ring, his commercials, songs about him




and more.  It's in that world, and that world only,  where someone can continue to achieve remarkable success and not only never have to give back, never have to thank anyone, never have to recognize the help that got him there (We built that!), where someone can get to the top and spit on those below him... but scarily,  it's in that world where people love him for it.

Sports is supposed to be a celebration of human achievement, of teamwork,  of excellence.  The individual performer can demonstrate superhuman capacities which take part in and benefit from a framework of leadership, cooperation, and rules.  Sports, in that end, is the common man's art, something we all feel we could do if we only worked hard enough, something that matters not at all except that it matters a great deal to people.

Sports is a celebration and also a reflection.  In our sports heroes, in what we choose to idolize and revere, we reflect back on ourselves our own drives.  When we elevate DiMaggio, Bradshaw, Jordan, James, Montana, Elway, Mannings... we shine down on ourselves what we liked about them and hope that we live up to that.

But what about when we revere people for the wrong reasons?  This week showed the backlash when glory and records get put above fairness and effort: the Steroid Era ballplayers were locked out of the Hall of Fame, and rightly so.  I remember being excited by Sosa-McGwire, only to be soured on baseball at all as records kept dropping thanks to Advances In Pharmaceuticals, not more batting practice.

In the past few years, sports heroes have not seemed to measure up.  Ray Lewis' farewell tour celebrates a man who insists that he, above all other teammates, get the glory at every single game -- his dance? -- but far worse, was once charged with murder and settled for merely admitting that he'd obstructed the police's investigation into that murder. And we are now supposed to root for his last go-round with the Baltimore Ravens?

Meanwhile, Eli Manning is made fun of for doing nothing more than wanting to "play good football" and winning two Super Bowls.  The worst thing I can remember hearing Eli do is not wanting to play for the San Diego Chargers, an offense I've forgiven him for.

There is a site dedicated to making fun of Eli Manning.  I know of no site that makes fun of Ray Lewis.  Where is the Tumblr for "Ray Lewis Obstructing Things?"

And then Aaron Rodgers.  League MVP, perennial favorite, multi-million dollar quarterback who runs his own recording studio, dates celebrities, appears on late night TV, went to Disney World, bears a Super Bowl ring, and don't get no respect.


If it were merely I don't get no respect, I might look past it and figure it's a darker version of St. Peyton's disingenuity, Louis CK to an earlier time's Jerry Seinfeld.

But it's not.  Rodgers' lack of respect is a grudge match: it is not only proving he's better than everyone, which is (as I like to say) as American as all get-out, but it is taking down others along his way, ensuring that only he and nobody but him gets the credit, that everyone bow down before him, that he stands supreme over all and everyone he left behind is crumbled.

Aaron Rodgers' football career is Sherman's March To The Sea, writ on an NFL scoreboard, and he doesn't care how many cancer survivors he's got to brush past to teach us all a lesson.  His jersey number ought to be Zero Dark Thirty, as people inexplicably celebrate him not just for his quest to be good but for his singleminded pursuit of revenge against any and all detractors, real or imaginary, former friend or current foe.  Never bet against Rodgers, readers told Bill Simmons, because like the Greek  gods, his quest for vengeance knoweth no bounds and he will destroy you.

THAT is what everyone is celebrating this weekend, and likely next, and, likely in the next Super Bowl: a thirst for recognition and retribution that has grown wildly beyond its roots and now stands for what is worst about Americans today: we don't know when to quit, we don't know how to give back, we want it all and none of it for you and we'll show you.

That is what you're rooting for.

You.



Not me.

I'm rooting for the 49ers.


5 comments:

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

There's a long history of jerk athletes being celebrated. Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth come to mind. People don't really care what a jerk you are so long as you win.

Briane P said...

So they're about ready to tirn on A-Rodg right now?

Briane P said...

Goddammit. TURN. TURN. "TIRN" ISNT EVEN A WORD AUTOCORRECT.

Briane P said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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