Aaron Rodgers fully embraced his role as one of the faces of the NFL this week, speaking out about what players should do about President Trump’s digs at athletes, the national anthem policy itself and what he would do if he actually did rule the NFL.
“I think that the more that we give credence to stuff like that, the more it’s going to live on,” the Green Bay Packers quarterback told the NFL.com’s Michael Silver on Monday. “I think if we can learn to ignore or not respond to stuff like that — if we can — it takes away the power of statements like that.”
While NFL officials desperately want the controversy to disappear, Trump differs. Criticisms of protests, and the league’s handling of them, have been a frequent theme for Trump in his tweets and speeches at rallies, amid strong indications that he thinks his hard-line stance plays well with his base.
Rodgers sought Tuesday to refocus the conversation, reminding everyone again that the demonstrations are not aimed at members of the military.
“I don’t know how many times we can say, as a player and as a group, how much we love and support and appreciate the troops, and the opportunities this country allows us,” he said. “But this is about equality and something bigger than ourselves, and bringing people together, and love and connectedness and equality and social justice, and putting a light on people who deserve to have the attention for their causes and their difficult situations that they’re in.
“You know, people have their opinion — you shouldn’t do it during the anthem, you shouldn’t do it during this — that’s fine. But let’s not take away from what the real issue is.”
The league tried to tamp down the protests by announcing a new policy in May that called for all NFL personnel, players and staffers alike, to “stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.” However, an allowance was made for those who preferred to remain in the locker room as the anthem was being performed, and Trump was quick to seize on that as unacceptable. “I don’t think people should be staying in locker rooms,” he told Fox News at the time, adding, “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there, maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.” Trump returned to the topic during a July rally in Great Falls, Mont., saying of the option to let players remain in their respective locker rooms, “Isn’t that worse than not standing? That doesn’t play. I actually think in many ways it’s worse.” The policy presently is on hold as the NFL and NFL Players Association try to reach an agreement.
Rodgers expressed frustration with the criticism he and other players have received, both from Trump and from fans via social media, that those who stage protests during the anthem, or at least aren’t overtly opposed to doing so, are disrespecting the U.S. military. He and his teammates chose to stand for the anthem last September, linking arms in a gesture that drew some boos at Lambeau. “This is about equality,” Rodgers said at that time. “This is about unity and love and growing together as a society and starting a conversation around something that may be a little bit uncomfortable for people.”
Rodgers, who is in his 14th season in the NFL, remembers the days before 2009, when players stayed in the locker room for the anthem.
“If you’re going to take the focus off of what the protest was really about — it was never about the anthem, it was never about the troops, it was about social equality and racial injustice — then make it all about the anthem,” he told The Ringer. “Everybody in the stadium stands and does the exact same thing. You have people in the concession [lines], people in the bathroom; you’ve got cameramen on their knee watching. You can’t have it one way or another.
“You have to remember where everything started. I’m one of the older players; we never came out for the anthem back in the day. We were in the locker room; in my first three, four, five years, we only came out a couple of times. We’d be in the locker room, we’d come out, intros, and then the game. Then the DOD [Department of Defense] paid some money for demonstrations and flyovers and whatnot and it became a different policy. Again, the messaging has been changed. If the owners see it as all about the flag and the anthem, everybody should be held to the same standard.”
Of course, NFL players aren’t the only prominent athletes singled out for criticism by Trump, with the most recent example the president’s tweeted insult of the intelligence of NBA superstar LeBron James. Rodgers said the fact that James did not immediately return fire was “absolutely beautiful.” “At a time where he’s putting on display his school, which is changing lives, there’s no need,” the two-time NFL MVP said of James. “Because you’re just giving attention to that [tweet]; that’s what they want. So just don’t respond.”
If he ran the NFL, Rodgers, who became a part owner of the Milwaukee Bucks last spring, would like to see the league borrow some ideas from the NBA. “We have sort of a tough situation,” he said. “I think one thing you could definitely look at that would influence the way contracts are done is a hard cap versus a non-hard cap — like the NBA, where there’s a cap, then there’s luxury tax.”
If a team wants to spend, it should be allowed to do so. “I would allow teams to go over the cap knowing if they do, since there’s not a hard cap, they are going to be faced with some luxury tax issues and they’d change their strategy. It’s not like we’re hurting — just like the NBA, we’re not hurting for revenue,” he said. “We’re doing excellent in the NFL and the NBA is doing fantastic as well.”
Which brings us to his personal slice of the pie. He has two years left on a contract that barely places him among the NFL’s top 10. Although talks are ongoing, the Packers could allow his contract to expire and then franchise him for two years. Not surprisingly, he’d like to see that tag disappear. “I think that gives the team a lot of power over your future, and they can tag you a couple of times. That, obviously, restricts player movement.”
Commissioner Rodgers wouldn’t stop there, either. He would “cut the preseason to a maximum of three games and probably cut the offseason down for veterans.” He hates the college targeting rule because it is “98 percent subjective.”
Rodgers thinks a lot about the rules and hates the college targeting rule. He appreciates the spirit of it—protecting players in compromising positions—but thinks it’s too punitive for a call that is “98 percent subjective.”
“A safety going to make a big hit and picking a target in the midsection — the [receiver] catches the ball and lowers his head — it goes from a legal hit to more of an almost helmet-to-helmet or maybe the shoulder to the helmet. You can get kicked out of the game for that,” he told The Ringer. “I think it’s a harsh penalty and I understand the intent of the rule, that’s good. The enforcement lacks a little bit of oversight.”
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