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Football giveth, and football taketh away

On Aaron Rodgers and the sadness of deconstruction

New York Jets medical staff members help injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers during a game in East Rutherford, N.J., on Sept. 11. Getty Images/Photo by Michael Owens

Football giveth, and football taketh away

If you love football, at some level you love watching Aaron Rodgers, regardless of your own team affinities or rooting interests. Rodgers the player reflects the very best of the sport—creativity, courage, unique talent, and competitiveness—and so I watched with interest his Jets debut (in that absolute BEAUTY of a uniform), and then with sadness a few plays later as he apparently tore his Achilles tendon and was hauled off the field on a cart. Football giveth and football taketh away.

It felt strange to pray for him the next morning ... that the Lord would use the circumstance of his injury—which looks to all the world (especially Jets fans) like an awful, nefarious thing—to draw Rodgers to himself or (as it were) back to himself.

I say “strange” because I have never met this person and “know” him only from a smattering of interviews conducted by others and also meeting some guys in Green Bay with whom he used to go to church. Rodgers the person seems (again, from the interviews) gradations more thoughtful/authentic/interesting than the vast majority of his NFL peers and way more interesting than most NFL quarterbacks, who generally become really proficient at the art of talking without saying anything. He also seems immune to doing performative things as a way to pander to fickle audiences. I’m inclined to like almost all genuine, non-performative people I encounter.

I also know that Rodgers was a few years ahead of the Public Deconstruction curve, in that he was the subject of a feature article by Mina Kimes that chronicled an experience he had with Rob Bell (RIP, Emergent Church™), which included Bell coming to do his usual ethereal, leadershippy, “question-everything” type talk to the Green Bay Packers, which led to him surfing with Rodgers, which maybe (the article implied this) led to him leading Rodgers away from the Lord and the church and his family.

This may end up being exactly the kind of prodigal son story the Lord loves.

Make no mistake about it, people leading other people away from the Lord is probably the single saddest thing there is, and the Bible is crystal clear about what happens to people who do this. But tonally the article of course positioned the whole Bell/Surfing/Question-Everything experience as an enlightening “growth” moment in Rodgers’ life. Whereas, as a believer, I had to see it as the single saddest thing that can happen to a person. Deconstruction is neatly summarized in Romans 1:21-22:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools....

And so forth.

Incidentally, Mina Kimes is on a short list of Public Figures You Can Never Say an Unkind Thing About. Which list also includes film director Greta Gerwig and, weirdly, Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields. A few years later, Kimes would go after Rodgers for his stance on COVID vaccines. Football giveth, and football taketh away.

As I was summarizing the Rodgers narrative for my wife this morning, it occurred to her (and then to me) that this may end up being exactly the kind of prodigal son story the Lord loves, and it gladdened my heart to think that Rodgers could begin to love the Father because of this circumstance. That would mean that, in God’s economy, the circumstance of the injury would be the opposite of arbitrary or capricious.

HBO’s Hard Knocks, which was essentially a multi-episode commercial for Aaron Rodgers, certainly didn’t position him as someone who loves the Lord. Rather, it positioned him as (to me at least) a super compelling guy who would be fun to talk to, who likes his teammates, and who is enjoying his role as Football Elder Statesman. But the mentoring would mean so much more if he loved Christ.

The injury, sad as it is, will allow him the luxury of time and self-reflection. Rodgers, who was welcomed to New York with such fanfare, might gain his soul by losing this season’s version of the world.

After those thoughts, my wife and I prayed for him.

Ted Kluck

Ted Kluck is the award-winning internationally published author of 30 books, and his journalism has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, USA Today, and many other outlets. He is screenwriter and co-producer on the upcoming feature film Silverdome and co-hosts The Happy Rant Podcast and The Kluck Podcast.  Ted won back-to-back Christianity Today Book of the Year Awards in 2007 and 2008 and was a 2008 Michigan Notable Book Award winner for his football memoir, Paper Tiger: One Athlete’s Journey to the Underbelly of Pro Football.  He currently serves as an associate professor of journalism at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and coaches long snappers at Lane College. He and his wife Kristin have two children.

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