I believe in athletes having the freedom and space to take political stands without having to worry about media and corporate backlash. I believe in athletes having the freedom and space to not take political stands if that’s their choice. But I also believe that there are moments in history when silence itself becomes a political stand, a luxury we cannot afford.
For Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers Super Bowl MVP quarterback, this is one of those moments. I’m just returning from Madison, Wisconsin, where tens of thousands of teachers, nurses, unionists and students, are fighting for their very lives. Day after day, I saw the crowds swell as people arrived on buses from across the state and even across the country. I saw feeder marches of 5,000 high school students chanting with an unguarded, proud fury you’d never know today’s teenagers possessed. I saw people dressed like King Tut with a banner saying they would “protest like Egyptians.” I spoke to nurses choking with rage that they would have to take second jobs or go onto food stamps if business as usual took place in the Capitol building. I saw thousands sing the Wisconsin Badger football fight song, ending with “Fight Fight Fight and We’ll WIN THE DAY!” and they weren’t talking about football.
They’re trying to stop their Governor Scott Walker, also known as “The Mubarak of the Midwest,” from gutting their pay, benefits and very right to collectively bargain. Walker has also threatened to bring in the National Guard if he can’t get his way. For those who don’t know, the budget “deficit” Walker is so concerned about is a result of tax breaks he handed to out-of-state corporate donors, gutting the state’s surplus. Now he wants the workers to pay.
Already, five current and former members of the Super Bowl Champ Green Bay Packers have spoken out against the bill. As Ed Garvey, the former head of the NFL Players Association and proud Wisconsinite, said to me, “More Packers have now stood up for Wisconsin workers than DC Democrats!” Already, the NFL Players Association has issued its own statement in support of Wisconsin’s working families. We must assume, that Aaron Rodgers, as the leader of the Packers and as the team’s union rep, has his fingerprints on both of these statements. But what we don’t have yet is Aaron Rodgers’s voice.
Rodgers is a graduate of Cal Berkeley, so he’s hardly unfamiliar with the power of protest. Also according to my sources at the NFLPA, he‘s a fantastic union rep, so he’s hardly unfamiliar with the critical necessity of collective bargaining rights. The crowds in Madison are aware of this as well. I saw dozens of Rodgers jerseys and signs that read, “Aaron Rodgers is a union rep!”
Governor Walker wants a state where anything that’s not nailed down is for sale to multinational corporations. If he had his druthers, Lambeau Field would be renamed Kraft Macaroni and Cheesehead Stadium. Or he would just sell the team to Los Angeles for fifty cents on the dollar. He’s that craven, that unprincipled, that callous about the future for the people of Wisconsin.
Walker also says he has the “quiet majority” of Wisconsinites on his side. Given the unique place the Packers hold in the hearts of cheeseheads and given their status as a nonprofit, fan-owned team, there are no words for how much it would mean if Rodgers would issue a personal statement of solidarity. Last September, Rodgers said to the Sporting News, “Hopefully the legacy I’ll leave is one of somebody who was of high character, did things the right way, cared about his teammates, was coachable and was good to the community he lived in.” If that’s what Rodgers wants his legacy to be, the time is now. Aaron, your community needs you. Time to get your Berkeley on and bring it to Badger-Land. One press conference, one quote, hell, one tweet. Anything but silence.