Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers called an audible earlier this week, faulting Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson for the negative press coverage he’s received in recent years.
Rodgers, a four-time NFL MVP, discussed embracing his newfound role as a “villain” following the controversy over his vaccination status during the 2021 season.
During an appearance on The Pat McAfee Show on Tuesday, Rodgers reflected on the controversy around his health status and blamed Big Pharma for contributing to the change in his public reputation.
“If you take the right sound bite from the right thing and it’s a station that may or may not have in the past been brought to you by Pfizer, they gotta make sure their villain gets cast in the correct light,” Rodgers said. “And whether or not they’re sponsored by Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson, whatever it might be, when you go up against some of those powers that be, put yourself in the crosshairs, they’re gonna paint you a certain way. And that’s what the media did to me a couple of years ago. That’s fine. That’s their prerogative. That’s what they wanted to do.”
In August 2021, when Rodgers was asked if he had received a COVID-19 vaccine, he answered that he had been “immunized.” Subsequently, Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 and missed 10 days, including a game against the Kansas City Chiefs, due to the league’s COVID-19 policies for unvaccinated players.
It was revealed that Rodgers had not received a vaccine and had instead received a homeopathic treatment that did not comply with the NFL’s protocols for being considered vaccinated. Rodgers received criticism for not wearing a mask in the press room despite being unvaccinated, which violates NFL rules.
Additionally, Rodgers has stated that he is allergic to an ingredient included in both Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccines while also being uncomfortable with Johnson & Johnson’s jab.
To state the obvious: it’s no secret that large pharmas and biotechs spend a lot of money on advertising, especially the companies Rodgers listed.
According to data from MediaRadar, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson both spent more than $100 million on advertising in digital, print, and national TV in 2022. Notably, Pfizer also led the way with more than 175 million impressions and $9.5 million in TV commercial buys across games during the early part of the 2022 NFL season, according to data from iSpot.tv.
While Rodgers may contend that his stance on the COVID-19 vaccine has hurt him in the court of public opinion, he continues to remain a popular figure in the NFL.
Last March, the NFLPA released the rankings of all officially licensed NFL player products and merchandise from 2021 through February 2022. Rodgers was listed at number nine in terms of player sales over that period.
Still, Rodgers’ comments elicited a reaction from media watchers, particularly those in the sports realm.
Sports Illustrated’s Jimmy Traina offered his two cents while also mentioning that he “was not instructed by Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson.”
“The best part of Rodgers’s diatribe, though, is the implication that Big Pharma is instructing networks to give him negative coverage because he didn’t get the vaccine,” Traina wrote. “This is a QAnon-level conspiracy. But remember everybody, Rodgers also says he isn’t a victim.”
Meanwhile, ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio said he “didn’t appreciate the blatant dishonesty” from Rodgers when he was asked about his vaccination status.
“I don’t need a check from Big Pharma to say that. I’ll do it for free,” Florio wrote. “He lied. He knows he lied. And now he’s trying to obfuscate his lie by pushing a stupid-ass conspiracy theory that anyone who speaks ill of him isn’t doing it because they genuinely believe he lied but because they’re getting paid to do it.”
For what it’s worth, one Twitter user noted the irony of the situation in light of trade rumors around Rodgers that could potentially see him dealt to the New York Jets, which are owned by Woody Johnson, the billionaire heir to Johnson & Johnson.