On Wednesday, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a revealing locker room chat with the press.
Since the year Rodgers became the Packers’ starting quarterback in 2008, he’s been the recipient of endless praise, honors and adulation. He’s been the darling of the press and the idol of legions of Packers fans. His fame has spread beyond sports circles, to the point he’s a nationwide media star and celebrity.
Following Sunday’s loss to the Vikings, the dam burst. After his 14th consecutive game (playoffs included) with a quarterback rating under 100, Rodgers was finally subjected to the kind of criticism and hard questioning that he’s never encountered before. And he blew it.
His defensiveness, belligerence, and sense of denial was disappointing, though hardly surprising. Rodgers wrapped his teammates around him like a shield, saying “(W)e don’t worry about the outside opinions… when we have a couple of disappointing performances, we know what’s coming.”
A couple? The media – the conduit between the players and the fans – were suddenly cast as outsiders, almost an alien presence.
We know Rodgers has had the media wrapped around his little finger when times are good, but now he’s in bad need of help in dealing with them in these times of personal trial.
Here’s an idea: how about Rodgers asking for advice from one of his oldest and dearest friends – a guy who has vast experience in reacting to a hostile and negative media.
A year after Rodgers was drafted 24th overall in 2005, The Packers selected Aaron James Hawk as the fifth overall pick of 2006. The two were teammates and the closest of friends for nine years.
Aaron and A.J. were golfing buddies, they hung out socially – I even seem to recall a photo of them on a double-date at a Milwaukee Bucks’ game.
Just this June, obnoxious media critic Colin Cowherd tried to bait Hawk into saying something negative about Rodgers. “I’ll stand up for him all day long… he is the ultimate leader,” retorted Hawk.
What other Packers player (former Viking quarterbacks aside) has had to deal with more negative press than A.J. Hawk?
How did A.J. Hawk handle his much greater and more prolonged scrutiny? With dignity, with humility, and without rancor. He took it like a man – no denial, no casting blame elsewhere, no counter-attacks.
The Packers erred when they selected Hawk fifth overall in the draft, and Hawk had to bear the cross of unfulfilled expectations for the rest of his career. He might not have played up to certain expectations, but he always played up to his capabilities.
Hawk missed just two games in his career. He led the Packers in tackles for five of his nine years. In fact, his 1,118 tackles are the most in franchise history. He even took a pay cut in 2011 to remain with the team. When he had lost his quickness and was let go in early 2015, he was again as gracious as ever to the media and fans.
In a few years, when Hawk returns to be enshrined in the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, he’ll get a fabulous and well-deserved reception.
A.J. Hawk is particularly suited to render sound advice to Aaron at this time – he is now himself in the media. That’s right, and he’s even become a Renaissance man, having just issued his 84th weekly podcast. Here’s how he describes his enterprise:
The HawkCast was created out of my passion for learning about the most interesting people in the world and wanting to know what made them who they are today… rock stars, hall of fame broadcasters, world class athletes, war heroes, bestselling authors, philosophers, and even an astronaut. This is my platform for sharing these great stories with a vast audience… YOU. Being a professional football player is my #1 desire, but a lifelong passion that has always existed is my interest in having a deep understanding of what makes people tick. These conversations will be a fun and different approach from most interviews you see. I put each person in a comfortable atmosphere to let them share their story with me and all of you.
I don’t know if the two Aarons have been keeping in touch lately, but wouldn’t it do Rodgers a world of good to get together with his old and trusted friend? I’m sure A.J. would have some valuable advice on dealing with the kind of adversity that A. J. faced – and that Rodgers is currently facing for the first time.
A.J. has been there, done that – and done it with a lot of class.