FOX Sports Exclusive
Rodgers finally letting his words flow
GREEN BAY, Wis.
In one of this season’s most memorable postgame interviews, “Shhhhh” is what Aaron Rodgers recently hissed when asked if a 42-24 rout of previously unbeaten Houston had quieted Green Bay’s critics.
Quite the understatement from a player who has become one of the NFL’s biggest chatterboxes.
Entering the FOX America’s Game of the Week between the Packers and visiting Arizona (1 p.m. Sunday ET), Rodgers is no longer commanding headlines solely with his stellar on-field play. The star quarterback is also producing news with comments made on his weekly radio show.
Rodgers stirs the pot on a variety of topics when behind the microphone. Last year, Rodgers criticized the effort given by some of his NFC teammates in the Pro Bowl by proclaiming that some of them “embarrassed themselves” and “didn’t want to play.”
Rodgers has continued speaking his mind during in-season Tuesday appearances that air on ESPN Milwaukee and are streamed on the station’s ESPNWisconsin.com website.
Following a controversial 14-12 loss to Seattle in Week 3, Rodgers apologized to fans and ripped the league for having “tarnished” the sport by using replacement officials. He added that the NFL “obviously cares more about saving some money than having the integrity of the game diminished a little bit.”
Rodgers also has given frank answers about his own performance and that of his teammates. That includes a critique earlier this week stating the quality of Green Bay’s rushing attempts “has not been anywhere where we’d like them. We’ve got to run the ball better.”
Rodgers even spoke in defense of Ryan Braun before the Milwaukee Brewers left fielder won his appeal of a failed test for a banned performance-enhancing drug.
“I believe in the truth,” Rodgers told FOXSports.com on Thursday. “I know there are three sides to every story — each person's individual side and what actually is the truth.
“Because of my friendship with Ryan, I was privy to some other (private) information. He needed support. In his time of need, I needed to stand by him.”
Rodgers rarely if ever displayed such candor earlier in his eight-year NFL career. The best example of this is how Rodgers nimbly avoided getting into a war of words with Brett Favre despite being snubbed by his predecessor while caught in the middle of the ugly 2008 split between the latter and the Packers.
Rodgers handled the situation with such class that he actually became a sympathetic figure when first replacing Favre. Rodgers also took the high road by not sticking it to Favre after leading the 2010 Packers to a Super Bowl title and winning the game’s Most Valuable Player award.
Whether the Rodgers of today would bite his tongue under the same circumstances is an intriguing hypothetical.
“I don’t want to say he was emboldened by how he was playing or his profile or whatever else, but I would say he has become a little more willing to put himself out there,” said Jason Wilde, the ESPN Milwaukee reporter who covers the Packers and co-hosts “Tuesdays with Aaron.”
“The Pro Bowl stuff was unbelievable. He was obviously way ahead of the curve on that. It's a little dicey. You're calling out other NFL guys for not trying hard enough. He had the (NFL) commissioner agree with him, but that takes some cojones to do that.”
Rodgers told me he doesn’t believe much of what is said on the show is “that big a deal” even though the attention he has drawn for some opinions indicates otherwise.
“It's just that I am one of the faces of this franchise,” Rodgers said. “I am in a leadership position. When stuff happens like it happened at the Pro Bowl, I thought something needed to be said. When someone needs to stand up for the officials, why not me after the situation we were in? It’s unfortunate we had to go through things like that to get (the officiating) change brought about.
“I’m not going to shy away from situations like that.”
But as some NFL players have learned the hard way, not saying anything substantive is the easiest way to avoid any chance for self-generated controversy.
Rodgers is still irate about the way radio comments he made regarding Green Bay’s scout team and practice efforts took on a life of their own following the team’s 2-3 start. Rodgers says he was simply echoing statements made by coach Mike McCarthy to the media and Packers players during a team meeting.
Others wondered whether Rodgers was pointing fingers at teammates for Green Bay’s surprising difficulties. Teammates and coaches were put on the defensive about the subject when asked. The issue also became a hot-button debate topic on the national sports scene before Green Bay’s win over Houston.
“It was 100 percent garbage,” Rodgers angrily said Thursday. “Anybody writing about that is absolutely lacking integrity.”
Entering the Texans game, Rodgers said he believes “the media in general and people after (a) 15-1 (record in 2011) and winning the Super Bowl the year before that wanted to see us fall. They wanted to see derision in our locker room.”
That hasn’t happened. Green Bay (5-3) has won three consecutive games with Rodgers throwing 11 touchdowns without an interception.
“We’ve stuck together,” he said. “That was fun to be able to quiet some of those people.”
So was there any chance of derision developing?
“It was a 99.9 percent media-created thing,” Rodgers answered. “When the facts aren’t presented, I have a problem with that.”
Rodgers isn’t nearly as revealing during his weekly Wednesday group media sessions inside the Packers locker room. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews said there’s good reason for that.
“If you’re not politically correct, you make headlines around here and get your quotes put on ESPN and misinterpreted,” Matthews told FOXSports.com. “So 99.9 percent of the time, we have to tell you stuff that might not be the truth. That’s the reality of it.
“With that, I think he’s just being honest (on the radio show). You can’t fault him for that. Obviously with the position he’s in and the success he’s had, everything he says is going to be magnified and every critic is going to try and decipher it in their own way. But take it at surface level for what he has to say.”
McCarthy said that he has no problem with players speaking their mind provided “nothing ever goes above the team or winning.” The coach also believes the 28-year-old Rodgers is following the “natural progression of an NFL quarterback.”
“The fact he has had success, people are more interested in him,” McCarthy said. “He’s answering more questions than he ever has. He is a young man that has a lot of depth and interests. He’s a very interesting person.”
Rodgers will only open the door into his personal life so much. He is fiercely protective of his privacy and has no interest in sharing his views on non-sports topics like politics.
Wilde, though, says Rodgers has never asked him to avoid asking a question or provide a pre-show list of what will be covered. Wilde also says the radio format has allowed fans to learn more about “the most intelligent player I've ever encountered.”
"The thing I like about this is that it really is an opportunity for people to get a feel for what he's really like,” Wilde said. “For a guy who's guarded in a lot of ways, it's especially fun to see people on social media sending me messages about how much they enjoy just hearing him talk about his favorite Halloween candy or breaking down a play and what is going on in his brain. It’s such a fascinating glimpse.”
It’s one that Rodgers is under contract to continue providing through the 2013 season. Asked why some other NFL quarterbacks who have media deals aren’t as forthcoming on their own shows, Rodgers said, “I’m not sure. I’ve spoken the truth. That’s always the easiest way to do it, in my opinion.”
And when it comes to opinions, Rodgers has no plans to “Shhhhh” himself.
"With the information overload and access, there are a lot more opportunities to express yourself and let people in if you choose to,” McCarthy said. “He’s comfortable enough in his own skin to let people see who he really is.”
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