Aaron Rodgers and a vice presidential candidacy that never existed: “That would have been really interesting”

OAKLAND The quarterback wasn’t there. His name is not mentioned for two hours. Maybe it wasn’t necessary.

The mere prospect of a couple had already served its purpose: driving news cycles, stirring speculation, generating intrigue around a risky run for the White House by an outsider determined to challenge political norms. But is Aaron Rodgers running for vice president of the United States?

This not only defied political norms but strained credulity.

It was nearly impossible to imagine Rodgers balancing the rigors of his day job as quarterback of the New York Jets with a high-stakes political campaign, particularly this fall, when the heart of the NFL’s regular season collides directly with the day of the elections. Still, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an independent presidential candidate and a member of America’s most famous political family, insisted earlier this month that Rodgers, a friend of his, was among those at the top of his list of possible running mates.

Rodgers never publicly denied or dismissed his candidacy – he “welcomed the proposal,” according to The New York Times – fostering, at least for a few days, the idea that a 40-year-old NFL quarterback and future Hall of Famer of Pro Football Fame could take a break from the hopes of the Jets’ season to travel around the country and campaign, meet with voters and maybe even participate in a vice presidential debate. Or, somehow, do both simultaneously.

The prospect of a Kennedy-Rodgers ticket – slim as it was from the start – was officially ruled out Tuesday in Oakland, where Kennedy named attorney and philanthropist Nicole Shanahan his running mate. Shanahan, formerly married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, is a new face in the political arena. She recently contributed $4 million to help pay for a Kennedy ad that aired during the Super Bowl.

Rodgers fit the mold Kennedy was looking for. “Our appeal is to young people,” Kennedy said in a recent interview, and Rodgers “is tested because he has been criticized in the press” for his “skepticism toward authority.”

How much juice Rodgers would have added to Kennedy’s candidacy is debatable. In just a few years, he has become one of the most polarizing figures in sports, and even some of Kennedy’s most ardent supporters, some of whom came to the Henry J. Kaiser Center for the Arts on Tuesday for the announcement, did not they bought into the notion that Rodgers was once a serious candidate for vice president.

“A publicity stunt,” Zack Nelson called it. The 26-year-old businessman from Seattle flew in for the event and said he had donated large amounts to Kennedy’s campaign, citing Kennedy’s embrace of cryptocurrencies. “All you have to do is say ‘Aaron Rodgers could be our vice president’ and people will bite,” Nelson continued. “I thought it was a very clever public relations move to get attention. And it worked.”

From a nearby seat, Ryan Sarnataro, a 72-year-old man who drove 85 miles from Santa Cruz on Tuesday, said he was not at all impressed by the prospect of Rodgers joining the group. “I’m not excited about people with no qualifications being one step away from the presidency,” he said.

New York native Trip Derham never took it seriously. “I didn’t believe it,” he said. “It would be a lot. “It would be a lot of confusion in the race.”

Some, like lifelong Bay Area resident Nicole Fuller, seemed surprised to learn that Rodgers was even a candidate for the job. “I didn’t know they were considering it, I had no idea,” she said. “But maybe she would have brought that folk feeling to this, almost like Taylor Swift? We might need it. “We’re kind of waiting for a miracle here.”

A supporter applauds during the Robert F. Kennedy event where Nicole Shanahan was announced as his running mate on Tuesday. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

Sue Peters, a neuroscientist from New York who flew in to attend Tuesday’s announcement, had no reservations about any of Kennedy’s potential running mates, including Rodgers. “I trust (Kennedy),” she said. “I felt like (former President Donald) Trump broke the mold and paved the way for Bobby to run for president as someone who has no background in politics. “I also don’t think a vice president needs to have experience in politics.”

A Kennedy supporter, who admittedly was new to politics, slipped from his spot backstage before the announcement to grab some “KENNEDY 24” caps in the lobby. For a few moments, he stood and scanned the life-size murals that decorated the entrance, a collage of photographs spanning Kennedy’s life. One showed the candidate, about 4 or 5 years old, cradled in the arms of his father. Before Tuesday, Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest) did not know that Robert F. Kennedy Sr. was making his own presidential bid when he was assassinated in 1968.

Like Rodgers, the 20-year NBA veteran and former champion has become friends with Kennedy over the past year. He arrived from Los Angeles on Tuesday morning to show his support, speaking three times at the podium, warming up the crowd before Kennedy and Shanahan took the stage.

When asked about Rodgers, whom he doesn’t know personally, World Peace weighed the possibility of a professional athlete running for vice president midseason. “Man, that would have been In fact interesting,” he finally said. “And really cool.”

How did we get here, to a world where a star quarterback turned part-time provocateur ends up on the vice presidential ticket of a candidate who happens to be John F. Kennedy’s nephew?

Something has changed for Rodgers in recent years, at least publicly: He’s lost interest in biting his tongue or offering the canned bits that so many professional athletes, especially franchise quarterbacks, rely on when pressed in front of microphones. or cameras. As Rodgers put it: He simply got tired of sitting back, staying quiet, and allowing others to shape the narrative around him.

He wanted to give his opinion.

Rodgers has repeatedly courted controversy, sometimes seemingly welcoming, even enjoying the ensuing storm; At other times, he becomes increasingly frustrated by how he believes he is being portrayed. He has dabbled in conspiracy theories on “The Pat McAfee Show,” a cozy pulpit where Rodgers knows the hosts won’t challenge him.

Not even if, as happened in January, Rodgers falsely alleged that television host Jimmy Kimmel’s name could be among those revealed in court documents linked to convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Kimmel threatened to sue. Rodgers attempted to retract the comments but never apologized.

“I’m not calling him (a pedophile) and you shouldn’t either,” Rodgers said on McAfee’s show later. “Let me make that very clear. I don’t take away emotion or joy from anyone who does that. So don’t do that in my name. Don’t do that at all. “Those are serious accusations leveled at people who are on that list.”

He recently became a nerd. Like Kennedy, Rodgers has repeatedly expressed his skepticism toward vaccines, at one point mocking Travis Kelce by calling him “Mr. Pfizer” after the Chiefs All-Pro tight end starred in a commercial advocating for COVID and flu vaccines. Rodgers later challenged Kelce and Dr. Anthony Fauci to join him and Kennedy for a debate on the topic.

Rodgers misled reporters about his own vaccination status before the 2020 season and later tested positive for COVID. The Packers fined him for not following league protocols. “I realize I’m in the crosshairs of the woke mob right now,” he said on McAfee’s show shortly afterward, “so before they put my final nail in my cancel culture coffin, I think I would like to make things clear.” “So many blatant lies out there about someone who is a critical thinker.”

That’s what Rodgers usually calls himself.

“I’m not, you know, some kind of anti-vax flat-earther,” he told McAfee in 2020. “I’m someone who is a critical thinker.”

Rodgers said his outspokenness cost him friends, teammates and sponsors. The turbulence has followed him like a shadow, both on and off the field. There was his messy, years-long divorce with the Packers last spring, which brought him to New York, where he was welcomed as a savior. His first season with the Jets ended in the first quarter of the first game. The team stumbled.

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In a recent appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast, Rodgers noted that he’s “less revered now” than he was a few years ago. Then the conversation returned to the COVID controversy. “You stand up for something, you bravely stand up for what you believe in, or the opposite is not saying anything and being a coward,” Rodgers said. “I wasn’t willing to do that.

“I don’t want them to overlook what I went through,” he continued. “Besides, I don’t give a damn. I have been able to make a lot of money playing a sport that I am very good at and I am grateful for that. I have a platform. Some people want you to shut up and throw a football, and that’s fine, but I think there has to be some voice of reason…”

That’s what attracted Kennedy to Rodgers in the first place.

“Aaron Rodgers’ instinct to choose service to others over his own financial self-interest, his commitment to the physical and mental health of America, his work to legalize the treatment of veterans and trauma survivors with psychedelic therapies, and his consistent record of maintaining the courage of his convictions. inspire and move me,” Amaryllis Fox, Kennedy’s campaign manager, wrote in X earlier this month.

It’s fitting, then, that when The New York Times broke the story that he was among Kennedy’s top choices for vice president, Rodgers was in Costa Rica on his annual ayahuasca retreat.

There is no evidence that the Jets knew this was a possibility. One can only imagine how quickly jaws hit the floor at the team facility when “Rodgers being considered for Kennedy’s vice presidential pick” appeared on the ticker. At this week’s NFL league meetings in Orlando, before Kennedy officially ruled out Rodgers by naming Shanahan his running mate, top team executives appeared to downplay the possibility of their star quarterback was considering a short-term and long-range political adventure.

“I didn’t take it too seriously,” general manager Joe Douglas said.

Did Rodgers contact the team to let them know that he and Kennedy had spoken?

“He didn’t have to do it,” coach Robert Saleh said.

Football, then. Douglas spent most of his offseason capital shoring up the Jets’ weak offensive line, which, in part, led to Rodgers’ premature Achilles tendon injury last September. “I hope he feels like he has some candidates for Director of Homeland Security (and) Secretary of Defense now that we’ve strengthened the offensive line,” the general manager joked.

Rodgers, owner Woody Johnson said, is “roaring to go” and is scheduled to return.

That’s good for the Jets. They have avoided a distraction. But knowing this quarterback, there’s more on the way.

Zack Rosenblatt contributed to this report.

(Rodgers Photo: Ryan Kang/Getty Images)