Sports of The Times
An emergency room doctor laments the Green Bay Packers quarterback’s missed opportunity to promote vaccines instead of dispute them.
Send any friend a story
As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.
It is perhaps all too easy to bash Aaron Rodgers, the latest star athlete to show he’s suffering from a God complex, hovering above the fray, more than willing to spew medical quackery and virus all over us mere mortals.
Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers quarterback, is one of the greats when it comes to controlling football games and throwing arcing spirals for highlights-reel touchdowns. But that gridiron genius was undercut when it came out last week that he had not only tested positive for the coronavirus but had also warped the truth about whether he was vaccinated.
“If the vaccine is so great,” Rodgers said in an interview with a radio host who is a friend of his, “how come people are still getting Covid and spreading Covid and unfortunately dying from Covid?”
Apparently, Rodgers missed the memo that while they are not foolproof, the vaccines are close to 90 percent effective and by far the best tools we have to beat back this plague.
Rodgers has been spewing other falsehoods about the virus and its treatments. So maybe he should spend time with Dr. Kyle Martin. He’s the medical director of emergency services at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, Wis., and he also works at two hospitals in rural parts of the state.
“We’re still very much in a crisis,” Dr. Martin, a self-described N.F.L. superfan, said when we spoke this week. “People are still dying in large numbers. And our health system, it’s stressed to the max.”
Covid-19 burns hot in Wisconsin, where it is now primarily a disease of the unvaccinated, many who clearly take their cues from celebrities like Rodgers.
After a period of decline, case numbers are spiraling up, and with them, visits to emergency rooms and stays in intensive care. If the typical cycle continues, deaths will rise in a state that is currently losing about 19 people per day to the virus.
“Rodgers is an icon here in our state,” Dr. Martin said. To have him questioning the vaccine and sow vaccine doubt “undercuts what we’re trying to do as a health care system. It’s just tragic.”
Dr. Martin suggested that Rodgers join him during an overnight shift at one of the emergency rooms where he works.
What would the quarterback see?
“He would see how Covid is now not just in urban centers — it’s ravaging rural Wisconsin,” the doctor said.
Rodgers would see patients, young and old, gasping for air, wracked with pain that scorches the chest. He would see patients pleading for a first dose of the vaccine, even though at that point it would be too late to help them recover.
He would see patients in cramped emergency wings, traditionally meant for quick triage, sometimes stuck there for 24 hours because there are not enough beds in intensive care units.
He might see death in the E.R. Or, more common, funeral home workers carting coffins out of the I.C.U.
He might get a taste of how the doubters of science-based medicine have poisoned the well. Remember last year, when frontline workers were heroes? These days, according to one Wisconsin health official I spoke with this week, anti-vaxxers have been known to show up in front of hospitals, spewing venom at doctors and nurses heading in to do the work of saving patients.
Dr. Martin told the story of a father who barricaded himself and his critically ill child in a hospital room, shouting that Covid was a hoax made up by doctors. “You are not taking my daughter,” the father said after a transfer was recommended. According to Dr. Martin, the father demanded a promise to send the child to a hospital that does not require masks. Of course, there is no such hospital. It took a team of police officers and sheriff’s deputies to calm the situation, Dr. Martin said, and to help the girl get the care she needed.
In Rodgers’s latest interview — well, more like a staged appearance with questions spoon-fed by the host, Pat McAfee, a former N.F.L. punter — he trotted out a half-baked apology and claimed to take full responsibility for what he had said the week before. He also said he stood by his position on vaccines.
It’s not clear he truly understands the ripple-effect damage caused by a sports star of his magnitude sowing doubt. Physicians are the ones dealing with this calamity in real-time, and a lot of their work these days centers on convincing the reluctant that there’s one tool available to help curb the mass spread of Covid — the vaccine.
“If I can establish a rapport, I might be able to get some science, some actual facts in front of the patient,” Dr. Martin said. “But Aaron Rodgers is someone everybody knows, and he’s someone whose views are listened to. So now when I’m in front of that reluctant patient, they have these conflicting things that they’ve heard. And that’s not making this any easier.”
Is it possible to have sympathy for Rodgers and other athletes suggesting doubt about the vaccines? (Thinking of you, Kyrie Irving.) Well, sure. For all their fame, they are like the rest of us, trying to make sense of a horrific situation. Everyone is doing this while facing tsunamis of information.
We are all susceptible to being duped.
So, yes, for all the damage their vaccine-doubting views can bring, we can also spare some compassion — at least a touch, while also holding feet to the fire and expecting sports stars to think of more than themselves during the worst pandemic in a century. With fame and the sway it brings comes that responsibility.
Dr. Martin agrees.
“I’m more than willing to give him a tour of an emergency room, talk to him, and answer his questions,” he told me. Hopefully, Rodgers would listen, even though the doctor is a Minnesota Vikings fan.