The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Aaron Rodgers is going on a darkness retreat. So I did, too.

Aaron Rodgers leaves the field after a game in November. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
6 min

If we are to believe Aaron Rodgers, then he is either close to entering his isolation retreat, or he’s already there. And if Rodgers, an overthinker who sometimes plays quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, can spend four days and nights sitting alone with his thoughts in complete darkness, then certainly I can manage one hour of seclusion inside a Washington Post photography studio.

When Rodgers, while on a retreat from the playoffs, announced on “The Pat McAfee Show” that he would be going away to a remote place with no phone, no schedule and especially no light — just him, his thoughts and the darkness — he got me thinking. Rodgers said he’s going dark because he wants “to be able to contemplate all things [about] my future.” Some pretty important life decisions, such as whether he will return to Green Bay, find a new team or just retire. Well, I have stuff to contemplate, too: What should I eat for dinner tonight? Why are D.C. speed cameras out to get me? Shouldn’t I be devoting this space to Eric Bieniemy instead?

So maybe I, too, need to get weird on a February afternoon and escape to the deep, dark shadows in my mind. I switch my phone to “Do Not Disturb” and search for what I hope to be the darkest room in the building: a photo studio. Our outstanding photo editor, Toni Sandys, swipes me in and seems a little bit too giddy to hit the light switch and close the door as I settle in on the couch.

Then it begins, my time in the darkness. Rodgers has the entire NFL world waiting on his decision (again). I have my editor, Dan Steinberg, waiting on me to turn in my copy (just like always, Steinz). So yeah, me and A-Rod are pretty much the same here: sitting in the dark, testing the limits of others’ patience and trying to attain a higher level of consciousness.

What exactly does Eric Bieniemy need to do to get a head coaching job?

One minute in, and I’m trying hard not to take a nap and call it “work.” Rodgers is probably thinking big, deep thoughts, so I should as well. I just can’t stop yawning. When a lion roars silently, do people think it’s yawning? And what if someone goes on a safari, confuses a lion with some cute, tired jungle cat deep in a yawn and goes up to pet it? But really the lion has lost its voice and is saying: “Graaaaaaarrr! Run for your life! I’m about to eat you!”

Woah. Deep.

Oh, right! Darkness. I forgot. Back to the darkness.

Five minutes in now and still no hallucinations. According to darkness retreaters — people who possess so much discretionary income that they paid actual money to trip out while huddled in a space the size of a dorm room — this experience may produce illusions. Far-out stuff like, say, a vision of Rodgers hoisting a second Lombardi trophy. One guy said he saw people dancing on the ceiling, which, when you think about it, may not be as cool as Lionel Richie makes it sound. Another woman said in her hallucination she saw Bill Gates and a team of scientists examining her organs. You would think the sixth-richest man in the world could afford his own bunker.

Now I wonder whom Rodgers will encounter in his room. Maybe his favorite former receiver, Davante Adams, catching touchdowns on the ceiling? Perhaps Anthony Fauci and a team of virologists patiently explaining to him the importance of vaccines?

And now a random but not so deep thought: Wouldn’t it be great to see what Green Bay backup Jordan Love can do as a starting quarterback? Every offseason that Rodgers decides to hold the Packers hostage — immobilizing the franchise until he finally makes up his mind — he further delays his understudy’s development. Whenever Rodgers leaves, Love, whom the Packers drafted 26th overall in 2020, will be next in line. But the Packers need the 39-year-old Rodgers to leave already. So don’t blame Love if he’s hoping that Rodgers gets lost in the dark and can’t find his way back to Lambeau Field.

Thirty minutes down, and this couch is so comfortable. Time for that nap. Pardon me, Mr. Gates, would you please stop staring at my liver?

I can’t believe they’re paying me for this.

I can’t believe we’re really paying attention to this man.

How jumbled must Rodgers’s mind be that he needs to spend nearly a week in pitch-black solitude to figure out his next move? It shouldn’t be this hard. See, I will show him.

Rodgers: Should I demand a trade to the New York Jets?

Me, blissfully asleep in the dark: Nope.

Rodgers, who enjoys manipulating the message, will hate the voracious New York media market. He never will be able to get away with a Yeah, I’ve been immunized” line without taking a lashing on the back pages of the tabloids.

Rodgers: How about reuniting with my main man Adams in Las Vegas?

Me, now 40 minutes in, awake and craving a latte: Possibly.

The Raiders could be another plug-and-win situation like Tom Brady had in his first year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But it doesn’t make sense to move to the AFC West, not with the Kansas City Chiefs as your divisional neighbor. The Super Bowl champions are led by a 27-year-old Patrick Mahomes, the best quarterback in the league, who doesn’t need to publicly share his journey to wholeness to remain relevant.

Rodgers: So I should retire, right?

Me and the visions of Richie and Fauci, in unison: 100 percent, my dude.

Rodgers will grant the Packers, the NFL and even himself freedom, if only he decides to start his post-football life. Then he can traverse every corridor in his mind all he wants. The only problem is he will miss being at the center of it all.

Rodgers loves being the conversation, taking up all the oxygen. Loves captivating an easily amused audience of bros every Tuesday when the McAfee show hangs on his every syllable. Loves leading the A-block segments on football networks during the offseason.

He complains about the “fake news” reported about his life from national NFL reporters. But the very thing Rodgers rails against is the thing he craves: attention. In the NFL, he’s a disrupter, an enlightened philosopher in shoulder pads. But in the real world, he’s just some guy, approaching middle age, struggling to find himself.

When my one-hour retreat in solitude ends, I’m assaulted by the fluorescent lights on the eighth-floor ceiling — and my pending deadline. Sadly, I never reach enlightenment. I only discover that I have missed five emails, two texts and a call from my mom. Hopefully, Aaron Rodgers’s getaway goes better than mine. Still, the darkness seems like an odd place for a man who desperately wants to be seen.