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Aaron Rodgers, Packers fined by NFL; Rodgers admits ‘misleading’ others about vaccination status

Aaron Rodgers is eligible to return to team activities Saturday with the Packers. (Rick Scuteri/AP)

The NFL imposed fines Tuesday on quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers for violations of the league’s coronavirus protocols. That came hours after Rodgers said in a broadcast interview that he stands by the comments he made last week about his vaccination status but he also takes “full responsibility” for misleading statements he made previously about being unvaccinated.

The league fined the Packers $300,000. Rodgers and a teammate, wide receiver Allen Lazard, were fined $14,650 each for violating the protocols for unvaccinated players. The findings of the review conducted by the league and the NFL Players Association as well as the fines were confirmed by NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy. Rodgers was not suspended, and the Packers said they accepted the penalties.

“We respect the League’s findings and we recognize the importance of adherence to the COVID protocols to keep our team and organization safe and healthy,” Mark Murphy, the Packers’ president and CEO, said in a statement. “We will continue to educate the team regarding the importance of the protocols and remain committed to operating within the protocols.”

Rodgers said during his appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show” earlier Tuesday that he expects to be cleared to rejoin the Packers on Saturday under the treatment protocols for unvaccinated players and play in Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field. Rodgers said he is “feeling really good” and believes there is only a “small possibility” that he will not play this weekend.

“I made some comments that people might have felt were misleading,” Rodgers said. “And to anybody who felt misled by those comments, I take full responsibility for those comments.”

But Rodgers did not back down from the remarks that he made on the same show Friday, when he vigorously defended his unvaccinated status.

“I stand by what I said and the reasons why I made the decision,” Rodgers, the NFL’s reigning MVP, said Tuesday.

Rodgers struck a less combative tone in this interview.

“Look, I shared an opinion that is polarizing,” he said. “I get it. And I misled some people about my status, which I take full responsibility [for] those comments. But in the end, I have to stay true to who I am and what I’m about. And I stand behind the things that I said, and I have a ton of empathy for people who have been going through the worst part of this pandemic.”

He also said he does not want to remain a symbol for either side in the national debate about vaccinations.

Jenkins: Aaron Rodgers is entitled to stay unvaccinated. He’s not entitled to lie about it.

“I’m an athlete,” Rodgers said. “I’m not an activist. So I’m going to get back to doing what I do best, and that’s playing ball. I shared my opinions. It wasn’t one that was come to frivolously. It involved a lot of study and what I felt like was in my best interests for my body. But further comments I’m going to keep between myself and my doctors.”

The protocol review by the NFL and NFLPA was completed Tuesday, and the team was notified in the evening. The Packers were told that any future protocol violations could result in increased discipline, such as the loss of draft picks or a change in draft-choice position.

Rodgers and Lazard were fined for attending a Halloween party while unvaccinated in violation of the protocols, which prohibit unvaccinated players from gathering outside the team facility in a group of more than three. The amounts of player fines for violations are predetermined under the protocols jointly developed by the league and NFLPA.

Rodgers was found to have been noncompliant with the protocols for unvaccinated players by failing to wear a mask at news conferences. There were a few instances of Rodgers and Lazard failing to wear a mask as required within the Packers’ facility but they were mostly compliant with that, the review found, based on video evidence.

The Packers’ fine included the Halloween party. The review concluded that the team didn’t sanction the party but was aware of it afterward and failed to discipline Rodgers and Lazard or report the violations to the league.

Rodgers tested positive for the virus last week and is in a mandatory 10-day isolation, under the protocols, after being told in August that he was considered unvaccinated. Rodgers had sought to be classified as the equivalent of vaccinated under the protocols based on a homeopathic medicine treatment, according to people familiar with the matter. Rodgers said at a news conference in August that he was “immunized” and would not judge unvaccinated NFL players.

The public comments made Friday and in August by Rodgers were not the focus of the review conducted by the NFL and the NFLPA, according to a person familiar with the matter, and thus did not factor into the discipline.

In its cold open on Nov. 6, "Saturday Night Live" addressed key events from the week, like NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers testing positive for covid-19. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

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“I know there’s been a lot of comments said,” Rodgers said Tuesday. “I understand that this issue in general is very charging to a lot of people because we’re talking about public health, and I totally respect that. I made a decision that was in the best interests based on consulting with my doctors, and I understand that not everybody is going to understand that, necessarily. But I respect everybody’s opinion.”

The Packers lost Sunday at Kansas City with second-year quarterback Jordan Love filling in for Rodgers. Under the protocols, Rodgers is eligible to rejoin team activities Saturday if he is symptom-free and cleared by doctors.

“I’m feeling really good,” he said. “I’m definitely fortunate to have the type of care that I’ve been able to have. I know it’s special and it’s helped me get through this better. I also know that it hasn’t been like that for everybody.”

He said he has been at his home in Green Bay, Wis., throughout his isolation period. The Packers have been “really supportive,” Rodgers said, adding that it’s “hard to watch” games on TV and he doesn’t want to miss any others.

“I’m not going to hate on anybody that has said things about me,” Rodgers said. “I believe everybody is entitled to their opinion, and I always will believe that. I think that it’s a time to move forward for me and talk about football. I’m thankful, again, to be on the other side of this, to be healthy and coming out of this.”