When Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett criticized NFL players for not speaking out the way their basketball brethren did, the focus quickly went to the way he criticized (and then apologized to) Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
But one other player Bennett mentioned in that diatribe was Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but that was in passing, identifying him and Peyton Manning primarily as members of the white establishment.
And Rodgers admits, athletes using their voice for social change isn’t as prevalent in his league, largely because that’s the way his league wants it.
During an appearance on ESPN Wisconsin’s “Wilde and Tausch,” Rodgers was asked if NBA players were more able to speak their minds, he agreed quickly.
“One-hundred percent. And I think it starts with leadership,” Rodgers said. “I think [NBA commissioner Adam Silver] has done a good job promoting that type of environment. And I think some guys in the NFL are probably worried about repercussions on speaking their mind from the league.”
And Rodgers was willing to admit that he’s as guilty of that as anyone.
“Those guys are doing it and they feel comfortable doing it,” Rodgers said. “I think if more guys maybe did in our league, it would create a domino effect possibly.”
Of course, not every player in the league wants to go to the length to educate themselves on a topic so their voice is more than noise. And many players will still do anything they can to avoid being controversial. Yesterday’s GQ story on Cam Newton portrayed the Panthers quarterback as more Michael Jordan than Muhammad Ali, when he said we were “beyond that. As a nation,” when asked about racism.
Keeping the shield clean makes a player appear more safe, thus more marketable. And some are going to choose that path.
Rodgers had an immediate chance to put his voice to use in his own community. After the interview in question, a police-involved shooting in Milwaukee led to riots over the weekend.
“I don’t know the specifics about it, but I do know that our heart goes out to those affected down there,” Rodgers said. “This is a connected world. Anytime there’s a disconnect like that, it’s disappointing to see. Our thoughts and our prayers go with all of those affected, and we hope that the violence doesn’t continue down there.”
It was a thoughtful, yet responsible statement. And because it didn’t fan the flames or take any point of view outside the mainstream, that makes it perfectly digestible for the league.