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By insulting the ‘woke,’ Aaron Rodgers demeans racial justice advocates everywhere | Solomon Jones

The NFL quarterback’s words showed that he never truly understood the cause that he claimed to support in summer 2020.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' use of the word "woke" when defending his refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine was a racist dog whistle, Solomon Jones writes.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' use of the word "woke" when defending his refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine was a racist dog whistle, Solomon Jones writes.Read moreMike Roemer / AP

It’s ironic that Aaron Rodgers used racial dog whistles to attack what he called the “woke mob” after America learned that Rodgers lied about his vaccination status, because at the height of racial protests in the summer of 2020, Rodgers masqueraded as one of the woke.

Last June, when it was popular to do so, Rodgers spoke in support of protests against racial inequality. He posted an Instagram photo of himself locking arms with Black teammates with the hashtag #WakeUpAmerica. But when Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 and was outed as unvaccinated after telling reporters he was “immunized,” he quickly went from racial justice supporter to right-wing culture warrior. Along the way, he demeaned the same people he’d previously claimed to support, and did so while asserting his white privilege.

“I realize I’m in the crosshairs of the woke mob right now,” Rodgers said while speaking on the Pat McAfee Show. “So, before my final nail gets put in my cancel culture casket, I think I’d like to set the record straight on so many of the blatant lies that are out there about myself right now, and I appreciate the opportunity to tell my side of the story.”

Rodgers said he did not lie about his vaccination status. Instead, he simply allowed people to believe he was vaccinated because no one asked a follow-up question. He also claimed to be allergic to some unnamed ingredient in two of the vaccines and said he was afraid of potential side-affects from the other. Rodgers said he spoke with unidentified medical professionals who helped him develop a regimen that somehow made him immune to COVID-19, though he later got COVID-19 anyway.

» READ MORE: Aaron Rodgers says he’s been taking ivermectin for COVID-19. Here’s what you need to know about that drug.

I find Rodgers’ explanation ridiculous, but I’m not concerned about his refusal to get vaccinated. That is his right. As a football fan, however, and as a Black man, I’m disappointed in his decision to demean the very racial justice advocates he claimed to support.

By invoking the image of the so-called “woke mob,” Rodgers belittled those who fight for racial justice, and he showed that he never truly understood the fight for racial justice that he claimed to support. To be woke, in the original sense of the word, is to understand that racism has life-and-death consequences for Black people every day. That’s why African Americans coined the word — to acknowledge those allies who understand the sometimes deadly nature of America’s racist and white supremacist systems.

Rodgers took that sacred meaning and carelessly used it to demean those who called out his lie about his vaccination status. Then he doubled down and tried to tried to paint them as part of some “cancel culture” that is willing to ruin people over the slightest misdeed. He then went further, using one of Donald Trump’s favorite terms, “witch hunt,” to describe reporters who were trying to learn which NFL players were vaccinated and which ones were not.

It felt like Rodgers was trying to speak to an audience that would acknowledge his white privilege, and excuse his decision to lie. It was as if Rodgers, who created the controversy by refusing to tell the truth, was completely out of touch with reality. He drove that point home when he misquoted the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to justify his decision to not wear masks in accordance with NFL rules for unvaccinated players.

» READ MORE: Rodgers stands by remarks, admits being misleading on status

“The great MLK said, ‘You have a moral obligation to object to unjust rules and rules that made no sense,’” Rodgers said during his interview on the Pat McAfee Show.

Except, King wasn’t talking about anything as trivial as NFL rules and a multimillionaire’s decision not to wear a mask. No, King was talking about laws that dehumanized Black people by denying them the right to vote. He was talking about laws that too often resulted in Black bodies hanging from trees.

But it’s what King said later in his famous Letter From A Birmingham Jail that Rodgers should embrace. King said, “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.”

If Aaron Rodgers truly believes he was right to flout the NFL’s vaccination rules, he should admit his wrongdoing, stop blaming others, and accept whatever penalty he receives.