GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers could’ve easily done with the question what he does when he sees a defense that’s less than ideal for the play call — he could’ve audibled.
Instead, when the Green Bay Packers quarterback — a thoughtful fellow who once kept many of his thoughts to himself and those close to him — was asked Wednesday about the deadly shooting in Las Vegas during the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival, he openly discussed the tragedy, including revealing he had some friends who were at the concert where 58 people were killed and 500 others were injured. Among Rodgers’ closest friends is country singer Brad Paisley, who played the annual music festival last year.
Rodgers said he woke up Monday morning to the news on his iPhone of the one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history and said he was “just heartbroken for those people.” In the past, that answer might’ve sufficed for him.
“I have some ties and connections to Vegas and I had some friends who were at the venue (at the time). It’s unthinkable that this would continue to happen in our country,” Rodgers said, referring to mass shootings. “You obviously send your prayers and thoughts to the people who are affected. A friend of mine lost their best friend of 20 years.
“It’s just it’s something unfortunately we’re still having to deal with. We’re going to have to make some changes in society — hopefully, quickly — because there’s too many situations like this where we send our thoughts and prayers to these victims and unfortunately (they) keep happening and (people just) stand up here and talk about it some more.”
While Rodgers stopped short of publicly calling for stricter gun laws, the fact that he opted to say something more than the standard thoughts-and-prayers cliché was further evidence of a newfound willingness to speak on social issues — including those on which some Packers fans might disagree with him.
Rodgers later acknowledged he has had a change of heart when it comes to speaking out, as evidenced by his decision to organize his teammates' show of "unity" by linking arms during the national anthem last week; his increased willingness to talk about racial inequality and social injustice issues raised by ex-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick; and his criticism of a fan who shouted an epithet toward Muslims during a moment of silence before a 2015 game.
“I think it’s important for any of us to be able to control our own narrative,” Rodgers explained when asked why he's become more open. “When you have people indirectly speak for you in a way that doesn’t reflect your feelings, your thoughts, your ideals, your beliefs, your heart and your vision, it makes you want to take back some of the narrative. That’s the first part.
“The second part is we all have a platform and I think we can use it to the betterment of society at times. There’s obviously been a lot of calls to ‘stick to sports,’ but sports and life intersect in so many ways. When asked questions like this, I’m going to answer honestly moving forward.”
Rodgers’ teammate, outspoken tight end Martellus Bennett, who joined the team in March, said he and Rodgers have had several conversations about that platform and his increased comfort with utilizing it. Bennett said he believes his quarterback is simply voicing thoughts he’s long had but held inside previously.
“I think that’s just who he is. He’s always wanted to say those things. Sometimes, you’ve just had enough,” Bennett said. “I always tell him, when it comes from him it’s totally different than when it comes from other people. There’s a lot of (stuff) going on in the world. The world is just so (messed) up. Sometimes that stuff adds up. And just having someone to talk to about it, and being more open about it, because it does affect us all. Because we’re not in a bubble. Sometimes I think people try to show you that their bubble can’t be popped.
“I think that comes with self-awareness, growth of self. I think it’s more about Aaron than anyone else. That’s his own personal growth. … It takes time to become comfortable with who you are as a person, no matter who you are or what level you are … ‘This is who I am, and you’ve got to accept me for who I am. And if you don’t, then (forget) it.’ But it’s hard. You want everybody to love you all the time and things like that. And then when you say things people don’t agree with, or they disagree with your point of view, some people are like, they can’t handle that.
“I just feel like, I’m not speaking for him, but I just think he had a lot of self-growth in life. Not as a player, but as a person. I just think he’s grown a lot as a person.”