This article was first published in 2012.
Aaron Rodgers has been slighted. Again.
Now in his eight year as a Green Bay Packer, we have learned much about Rodgers the quarterback, but relatively little about Rodgers the person.
During his three years as Brett Favre’s understudy, Rodgers stayed mostly in the shadows, a stranger to most Packer fans. We knew he was from California, and assumed he had fallen so far in the draft because 31 personnel directors were skeptical of his potential. As the gray became a growing presence in Favre’s stubble, we prayed that Ted Thompson knew something different.
He did. Five seasons later, there is now little we don’t know about Rodgers the quarterback, other than perhaps the year he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Maybe Ted knows that, too.
We have also come to know our quarterback as a person, and there is much to admire about Rodgers’ background. It starts with his humble beginning in community college and his long climb to a Division I school. It includes his draft day humiliation; the Favre minefield he had to navigate; his composed demeanor with Green Bay’s fishbowl environment; and the moxie with which he leads and inspires his teammates. Praiseworthy as well is Rodgers’ extraordinary generosity and off-the-field contributions to charitable causes — most of which flies below the media radar — including his close association with the Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer.
It is all quite a story, hence CBS’ decision to feature Rodgers in a recent episode of 60 Minutes. Oddly, after four months of trailing and filming Rodgers, the most talked-about segment in the piece appears to be his reaction to a fan who blurted to the quarterback that Rodgers was smaller in person than he had expected. A clearly irked Rodgers was in no joking mood. “I don’t appreciate that,” he groused.
Given Rodgers’ personal fortune and his standing as one of the best and most popular players in the best and most popular sport in America, many have counseled Rodgers to lighten up. I agree. If a nervous, star-struck fan has a fit of honesty and tells you they are surprised you are not some sort of hulking giant, let it go. Laugh it off.
But that is just not Rodgers’ style. He has perfected the art of manufacturing chips to place on his shoulder, taking every slight, from his draft day slide to criticism that he didn’t organize and lead voluntary team workouts during the 2011 lockout, and using it to prove his doubters or critics wrong. It’s a practice that fuels a competitive fire within Rodgers and contributes to his superior play.
Aaron Rodgers is not the first professional athlete to use the criticisms and judgments of others for self-motivation. Michael Jordan may have written the owners’ manual on this. One small example is how Jordan, on multiple occasions and with surprising bitterness, has rattled off the obscure names of those who he believed wronged him at some point in his life. One score Jordan has sought to settle is with the high school coach who refused to put him on the varsity squad as a tenth grader.
All through my high school and college life, Jordan posters adorned my walls. But sometimes, a thousand words can be worth much more than a picture. During his 2009 induction into the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame, a sullen Jordan showed us a smallness we never saw on the basketball court, using this very public forum to castigate the former high school coach. According to Yahoo! Sports:
“Worst of all, he flew his old high school teammate, Leroy Smith, to Springfield for the induction. Remember, Smith was the upperclassman his coach, Pop Herring, kept on varsity over him as a high school sophomore. He waggled to the old coach, I wanted to make sure you understood: You made a mistake, dude.”
In retrospect, there was a clear difference between how Jordan carried himself in public, where he was eminently likeable, and how he did so in private, where he was consumed by the words of others, and how that shaped the kind of teammate and person he was to those around him.
I say this emphatically, and admiringly. Aaron Rodgers is no Michael Jordan. In fact, I suspect the two men may be mirror opposites. From what we know, it seems that Rodgers is an even more impressive individual in private than he is in public.
But he is also a man not without flaws. And chips on his shoulder. Like Jordan, it appears those chips have driven Rodgers to excellence. Unlike Jordan, they haven’t affected his priorities or his character.
Take that, 31 personnel directors.