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Column: Rodgers ‘audible’ on vaccine not the right call



FILE - Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers smiles as he is interviewed after an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Chicago. The Packers won 35-16. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

By JIM LITKE / Associated Press

There are some potentially serious problems with the “unvaccinated-Aaron Rodgers-has-COVID-19” story, so let’s get the funny business out of the way first.

When reporters asked the Green Bay Packers quarterback back in August whether he’d been vaccinated, he replied, “Yeah, I’ve been immunized.”

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Not exactly. Rodgers may have won “Celebrity Jeopardy!” a half-dozen years ago, but he’s no more a medical doctor than Julius Erving was. Otherwise, he would have known better.

So be charitable and give Rodgers the benefit of the doubt. Assume he really believed whatever cockamamie home remedy some friend whipped up afforded him the same immunity against the virus as the vaccine.

But that’s not what he said. And what he said next sure made it sound that by “immunized” Rodgers meant he’d gotten the jab.

“There’s guys on the team that haven’t been vaccinated. I think it’s a personal decision,” he added. “I’m not going to judge those guys.”

That helps explain why most people were surprised by reports Wednesday that Rodgers tested positive, which can happen to anyone, but even more surprised to learn he wasn’t vaccinated. Raise your hand if you were surprised to find out Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur was not one of them.

LaFleur deftly sidestepped a question Wednesday about whether Rodgers’ “immunization” remark from August was misleading, saying, “It’s a great question for Aaron. I’m not going to comment on it.”

The third-year coach also refused to confirm Rodgers’ positive test result or his vaccination status, but did acknowledge his star player was in the NFL’s COVID-19 protocol, which mandates 10 days away from the team.

Rodgers will miss Sunday’s game against Kansas City, but the Packers are 7-1 with a 3 1/2-game lead in their division. Plus, Jordan Love, his backup and Green Bay’s first-round draft pick in 2020, gets the chance to gain some much-needed seasoning and if all goes well, Rodgers will be back in time for the week after against Seattle. So what’s the big deal?

That could depend on what the Packers know and when they knew it.

According to NFL Media, Rodgers requested an exemption from the COVID-19 protocol sometime this summer based on his antibody levels, and was denied after an infectious disease specialist appointed by the league and the players’ union found no proof of protection against the virus. Technically, then, he was unvaccinated and thus subject to some tough restrictions.

Those range from daily testing to mask-wearing to a potential five-day quarantine just for crossing paths with someone who tests positive and Rodgers, as anyone who checks sports and entertainment websites even occasionally knows, gets around.

Last week, two of his receivers – All-Pro Davante Adams and Allen Lazard – and Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry were in the protocol and missed the win over Arizona. On Tuesday, third-string quarterback Kurt Benkert went on the COVID-19 reserve list. A day later, cornerback Isaac Yiadom joined Rodgers’ on the stay-home-from-work list for Week 9.

“I watch what these guys do,” LaFleur said, insisting the club has followed the league’s guidelines throughout. “I can only speak to our football space, but yeah, absolutely. We’ve got cameras everywhere. I think our guys do an outstanding job with it.”

Maybe. But not long after LaFleur finished talking, NFL officials said they planned to look for themselves. League rules allow vaccinated players who test positive to return after two negative tests taken at least 24 hours apart; unvaccinated players testing positive must isolate for at least 10 days.

“The primary responsibility for enforcement of the COVID protocols within club facilities rests with each club,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement. “Failure to properly enforce the protocols has resulted in discipline being assessed against individual clubs in the past. The league is aware of the current situation in Green Bay and will be reviewing with the Packers.”

The big sports in general, and the NFL in particular, have done a very good job of managing the pandemic, largely by adopting strict guidelines and refusing to wink or nod whenever somebody refuses to play by the rules. That’s why Kyrie Irving is watching Brooklyn Nets games from his couch instead of a basketball court, and why Nick Rolovich, after just 11 games in charge, became the ex-head coach at Washington State less than a month ago.

Neither was vaccinated, but they didn’t claim to be “immunized,” either. Whether that’s a distinction without a difference remains to be seen.

More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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