It was the most personal of gestures when Aaron Rodgers showed up for last Thursday’s NFL game wearing a sweatshirt with the words “BUTTE STRONG” in huge letters.
Most of the places that helped mold Aaron Rodgers into one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks have been shrouded in smoke or singed by the Camp Fire burning in Northern California and on Wednesday he pledged $1 million to help victims, a gesture that became even more personal when it resurrected a rift in his own family.
Rodgers has been estranged from his two brothers and parents for years for reasons never fully divulged and his fundraising video on social media brought a response from his brother, a former “Bachelorette” contestant who criticized the charity drive. Jordan Rodgers tweeted that the Green Bay Packers quarterback failed to call their mother, who had packed up her home in case of an evacuation order as the fires leveled nearby Paradise, Calif. “Everything else just feels like an act,” Jordan Rodgers wrote.
The chill within the family became public during Jordan’s “Bachlorette” appearance and has cropped up from time to time since then. “It’s complicated,” their father, Ed, told the New York Times in early 2017. “We’re all hoping for the best.” Aaron Rodgers has shied away from the topic, telling the Times in 2017: “I just don’t think it’s appropriate talking about family stuff publicly.”
Rodgers’s hometown of Chico has a population of about 93,000 and is on the outskirts of the flames, but it’s now hosting tens of thousands of displaced neighbors from nearby Paradise, Parkhill and Magalia, towns overrun by the wildfire. His old high school, Pleasant Valley, where he threw for more than 4,000 career yards, has been closed since Nov. 9. It won’t reopen until Dec. 3.
Butte Community College, where Rodgers starred before heading to Cal-Berkeley, won’t reopen until after Thanksgiving and Rodgers’s donation will go to the North Valley Community Foundation. His longtime sponsor State Farm is also donating $1 for every retweet of Rodgers’ post, up to $1 million.
“Growing up in Chico, I spent a great deal of time up there. I played a lot of football and basketball and sports up in Paradise, basically lived in Magalia at one point, which is an even tinier town off of Paradise. The devastation there is tough,” Rodgers told reporters earlier this month (via ESPN). “Hearing the stories of people running down the highways to avoid the fire. Knowing that people burned alive in their cars. It’s heartbreaking, for sure, and then you have a fire in my adopted home of southern California, so it’s been a tough week for sure. And myself and the guys from northern California, our thoughts and our prayers are with those folks. Not only the great firefighters fighting the fire, but all the people displaced, in my home area, Butte County, and then obviously down south in the L.A. area.”
After the Packers’ loss to the Seahawks last week, Rodgers wore a “Butte Strong” hooded sweatshirt. Proceeds from the sale of the sweatshirt, made by Chico-based clothing company Upper Park, benefit the Northern California Fire Relief Fund, according to Upper Park’s website.
The company raised more than $35,000 from the sale of the “Butte Strong” merchandise.
Rodgers also wore a Santa Monica Fire Department hat during his postgame news conference after Green Bay defeated Miami on Veterans Day.
“I’ve been on the phone with a lot of folks close to me in northern California and in southern California,” he said then. “I had the fortune to meet some great firefighters from Santa Monica in the offseason. They sent me this hat, and I was thinking in my house today, this was the only paraphernalia I had that could represent my support for those folks who are fighting the fires. My heart goes out to the great people of Paradise, Calif.”
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