Rodgers' vaccine comments may test his clout with sponsors

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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) pushes down Arizona Cardinals linebacker Markus Golden (44) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers could be playing football again less than two weeks after testing positive for COVID-19 and misleading everyone about being an unvaccinated player.

Whether the off-field consequences of the reigning MVP's science-defying explanation for why he chose not to get the shot have a similarly short shelf life remains uncertain.

Rodgers is one of the NFL’s most visible players. His appearances on State Farm commercials make him a ubiquitous presence even on game telecasts that don’t involve the Packers.

His comments regarding his vaccination status could put that marketability to the test.

“It’s unlikely right now given the volatility of the situation that he's going to have new people coming out and wanting to form a partnership with him, but I think it’s also unlikely that you’re going to have companies split with him,” said Patrick Rishe, the director of the sports business program at Washington University in St. Louis.

State Farm stood by Rodgers earlier this week, saying that it disagrees with some of Rodgers’ statements but respects his right to have his own personal point of view.

The revelation that Rodgers never got vaccinated for COVID-19 came after he tested positive on Nov. 3, causing him to miss the Packers’ 13-7 loss at Kansas City. The earliest he could return to the team is Saturday, which would enable him to play Sunday when the Packers host the Seattle Seahawks.

Assuming he does play Sunday, the reception Rodgers gets from the home crowd could provide some early hints on whether this episode has impacted his popularity at all.

Ashley Dabb, a visiting sports marketing professor at St. Joseph’s University, says the biggest issue is that Rodgers initially was misleading about his vaccination status.

Rodgers said during a Nov. 5 appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show” that teammates, Packers officials and league officials knew he was unvaccinated. But when he was asked in an Aug. 26 news conference whether he was vaccinated, Rodgers had replied, “Yeah, I’m immunized.”

“Ultimately the heart of the matter is the fact there’s now a trust consideration,” Dabb said. “Rodgers is now taking full responsibility for the statements, but the fact that he was misleading I think would give any brand pause, not to say they wouldn’t eventually sponsor him, but it’s a serious consideration when you’re not sure if the athlete you’re working with would be truthful in all matters.”

The NFL fined Rodgers and teammate Allen Lazard each $14,650, and the Packers $300,000 for violations of protocols. Those protocol violations included the unvaccinated Rodgers appearing unmasked at news conferences.

Rodgers appeared on “The Pat McAfee Show” again Tuesday and stood behind the comments he made last week about why he didn’t get vaccinated, but he also took full responsibility for misleading some people about his status.

“I shared an opinion that’s polarizing,” Rodgers said. “I get it. And I misled some people about my status, which I take full responsibility of, those comments. But in the end, I have to stay true to who I am and what I’m about.”

Henry Schafer is the executive vice president of The Q Scores Company, which measures the awareness and likeability of personalities in various professions. Schafer said the public awareness level of Rodgers ranks behind that of only Tom Brady among active NFL players but noted the three-time MVP’s likeability ratings were roughly average compared to other sports figures the company tracked.

Rodgers’ Q Score ratings won’t be updated until January, so it’s too soon to know how the last several days might have impacted the veteran quarterback’s popularity. But Schafer believes Rodgers helped himself by taking responsibility for misleading the general public about his vaccination status.

“It looks like from what I’ve seen, he kind of responded pretty quickly to the controversy, which tends to mitigate the negative perceptions that consumers will have, because he addressed it quickly and did it on his own rather than through a spokesperson,” Schafer said.

For some companies, Rodgers’ status as an unvaccinated individual and his explanations for avoiding the vaccine might be enough reason to avoid doing business with him.

Prevea Health announced last week that the Wisconsin-based health care company and Rodgers had mutually agreed to end their nine-year partnership. Prevea Health issued a statement saying that the company “remains deeply committed to protecting its patients, staff, providers and communities amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes encouraging and helping all eligible populations to become vaccinated against COVID-19 to prevent the virus from further significantly impacting lives and livelihoods.”

“To have somebody who is not vaccinated as a spokesman for any kind of health practice, I would think would be a reach,” said George Sillup, a professor for the pharmaceutical and health-care marketing department at St. Joseph's University.


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