Aaron Rodgers – soul brother

Aaron Rodgers in 2011. Photograph by Mike Morbeck

Aaron Rodgers in 2011. Photograph by Mike Morbeck

Today’s tempest in a teapot is brought to you courtesy of Earl Thomas, All-Pro Safety of the Seattle Seahawks – my, how they love to stir the pot – who said he’s not buying the notion that Aaron Rodgers’ calf is injured. (Translation: The Hawks have to prepare as if the Green Bay Packers quarterback were healthy, because he’s that good.)

But wait, that’s not what got everyone riled up. Thomas went on to say of Rodgers, whom the Hawks will face Sunday for the NFC championship: “I just respect him as a football player in general. You can tell that he knows the game. He has a lot of confidence back there. You don't really see a lot of quarterbacks of his skin color with soul like that, and I like it." 

Uh-oh. You can imagine the Hurricane Sandy that kicked up. Reaction was swift and predictable:

If a white player said that about a black player….

Yes, but blacks have more latitude in their comments, because they’ve been oppressed by whites….

Many whites today haven’t oppressed anybody and anyway, what about all the whites who fought and died to free black people…

What about all the black people who sold their brothers and sisters into slavery…

It’s a compliment….

It’s just guys jawing at each other…

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Look, why don’t we agree that while people of good will must continue to have a dialogue on race, history is such that the wound will always lie just beneath the surface. Race plays a significant part in my upcoming novel “The Penalty for Holding,” the second in my series “The Games Men Play,” as Quinn Novak, star QB for the evolving New York Templars, struggles to come to grips with being Indonesian-American, part of the half and half, uncomfortable in the very skin his lover Tam Tarquin, the legendary QB of the San Francisco Miners, loves to touch. Race isn’t an issue we’re going to resolve any time soon. Doesn’t mean we can’t work on it.

The brouhaha begs the question though: What did Earl Thomas mean by soul? Is he talking about character? Heart? Or heart set to a jazz beat?

Here it’s instructive to consider Rodgers, pitchman, and compare him to the only other quarterback who has a higher TV profile, Peyton Manning.

In his commercials – whether they be for Visa or Nationwide – Manning plays the oblivious golden boy. The paper boy might be throwing the newspaper through his window in a credit card commercial or he himself might be losing feeling in his toes in the whirlpool in a Nationwide spot, but it’s all good.

Rodgers’ persona is more befuddled everyman. The Chicago Bears’ fans who recognize him only as State Farm’s Discount Double Check guy, the Cheesehead who yells “Rodgers!,” his disapproving Schwarzenegger-esque trainers Hans and Franz (Kevin Nealon and Dana Carvey, reprising their SNL characters), the kid who challenges him on career day by suggesting that quarterback is not a real job – they give Rodgers no respect. And he in turn is most likely to respond, “I’m sorry, who are you?”  But he keeps going.

On camera or on the field, he’s a gamer. No wonder he plays with so much heart – and soul.