The MRC's COVID Sports Selfishness Brigade
Led by sports bloggers Jay Maxson and John Simmons, the Media Research Center labored to turn Aaron Rodgers and Novak Djokovic into heroes for deceiving officials about their COVID vaccination status.
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center was already giving love to pro football quarterback Aaron Rodgers in an Oct. 20 post, when the mysterious Jay Maxson gushed over how Rodgers "became the latest celebrity to speak out against cancel culture. A blight on the nation, cancel culture is part of a soft society that attempts to shrink and silence people, the Packers’ quarterback observed on the Pat McAfee Show," adding how "The quarterback said American society is “soft” and intolerant of people’s right to disagree. He criticized how people can’t have “back and forths” disagreements without somebody feeling offended."
In retrospect, one wonders if Rodgers was trying to buy himself a little right-wing inoculation against an upcoming scandal -- which broke a couple weeks later when it was revealed that Rodgers lied to his Green Bay Packers team about being vaccinated against COVID (his insistence that he didn't notwithstanding), falsely claiming he was "immunized" when actually he was taking dubious medications like ivermectin. He then tested positive for COVID. Of course, the MRC -- whose sports bloggers have been pushing anti-vaxxer arguments for a while now -- launched a full-throated defense of Rodgers.
Matt Philbin devoted a Nov. 5 post to Rodgers saying all the conservatively correct things in defending his selfishness:
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has suddenly become one of the great villains in pro sports. He caught the covid this week and it turns out he never got vaccinated. Thus, sneering sports mandarins like Nancy Armour cast him out into the darkness as “anti-science.”
Actually, he's wrong. As ConWebWatch documented when Philbin's fellow MRC workers pushed this right-wing narrative, Trump was cynically using the promise of a vaccine as a re-election ploy and thus couldn't be trusted about the vaccines' efficacy (not to mention his being a congenital liar), and top Democrats including Joe Biden and Katherine Harris sensibly said they would trust credible medical officials over the word of Trump.
Philbin went on to uncritically quote Rodgers insisting that "I'm not an anti-vax, flat-earther,” and that he had allergies to two of the available shots, though he didn't demand evidence from Rodgers to back that up or explain why Rodgers should be taken at his word.
But the MRC is blindly loyal to anyone who spouts their agenda, and Rodgers is their new champion. Maxson -- who has used his (or her) platform to spread misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID and its vaccines -- used a Nov. 9 post to defend Rodgers from criticism by NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:
When athletes like Rodgers say something stupid, “the public trust in athletes lowers and sponsors might consider avoiding players in favor of actors, pop stars, or social media influencers.” Woke athletes like Stephen Curry and LeBron James don’t have to worry about that (by parroting left-wing narratives), but young, rising stars might be denied lucrative advertising deals.
Maxson went on to sneer that Abdul-Jabbar "has often been judged by the weak content of his character," but linked only to his (or her) own posts as evidence of that "judging."
The defensive whining continued:
Maxson whined further on Nov. 15 about vaccinated NFL players who contracted COVID being treated differently than Rodgers:
Vaccinations are not fool-proof preventers of COVID-19. They are, however, “vaccinations” against objective reporting by out-and-out dishonest sports media. The stories of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Minnesota Vikings guard Dakota Dozier and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers are living proof.
Maxson didn't mention that one big reason for the disparate treatment is that those players didn't lie about being vaccinated, like Rodgers did.
In a Nov. 18 post, John Simmons -- who like Maxson has spread COVID misinformation and conspiracy theories -- cheered that the NFL was "hilariously outsmarted by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on their vaccine policy," which is a funny way of describing how Rodgers lied to his team and embraced dubious treatments instead of actually getting vaccinated. He went on to grumble that "The overreaching, nonsensical, and fear-based protocols the NFL has implemented throughout the year have ignored science, disregarded personal choice, and divided the league between the good (vaccinated) and bad (unvaccinated) people.
On Nov. 28, Maxson sympathetically reframed Rodgers being a jerk into him merely telling a joke that people who aren't his fans didn't get:
The Wall Street Journal didn’t get the joke. After Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers confirmed he has a broken toe last week, he humorously called it “COVID toe.” That remark was in reference to massive media coverage of him previously catching the coronavirus after not having been vaccinated. The WSJ took the joke as truth hook, line and sinker and ran a story on it.
Maxson offered no evidence that Rodgers was, in fact, telling a joke beyond uncritically quoting Rodgers complaining about the coverage of his statement.
Simmons was still defending Rodgers in a Dec. 17 post, this time against President Biden:
Let’s get one thing straight: President Joe Biden has proven in his tenure in the White House that he is not an expert in ... well, pretty much anything, and certainly not in how individuals should handle their own health.
You know who else isn't a health expert? Aaron Rodgers. It's clear he did not confirm with his own team's health experts before lying to them about being vaccinated. But Simmons is more than happy to give him a pass on that lie by insisting his claim of being "immunized" actually means something (and because he's now a right-wing hero):
Rodgers stated before the beginning of the season that he was “immunized” against COVID, but was crucified when the media found out that he was not vaccinated. Everyone from sports reporters to talk show hosts painted him as a dangerous, anti-science attention seeker when it was further discovered that he consulted Joe Rogan on what medications he should take to keep himself healthy.
It should also be noted that Simmons has offered no health expertise either -- he's just spouting right-wing anti-vaxxer rhetoric.
Simmons defended Rodgers going full conspiracy mode in a Dec. 29 post:
Despite getting crucified by the left-winged media for not being vaccinated, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers continues to throw haymakers at the vaccine narrative.
What does it say about both Rodgers and Simmons that they believe COVID science is so politicized that to be in support of safety measures is the same thing as being on "the Left"? Nothing logical and everything about how hard the MRC has labored to turn basic safety questions into a partisan attack.
Maxson spent a Jan. 3 post whining that Forbes magazine criticized Rodgers' anti-vaxxer attitudes in an article on the highest-paid athletes even though he wasn't actually on the list:
The NFL’s reigning most valuable player who isn’t really on the list of highest paid athletes “unleashed a firestorm after he was revealed to be unvaccinated after testing positive for the virus in November,” Saul wrote. Rodgers who isn’t among the high paid athletes said he feared the vaccine could cause sterility and fertility issues.” There is no evidence to this claim, Saul said.
Maxson then mixed in some conspiracy-mongering with his defense of selfish athletes:
It’s not hard to understand why athletes were hesitant to get jabbed. There are risks, though rare, of death (10,688 through Dec. 20, 2021), severe allergic reactions, blood clotting, paralysis and more.
In fact, there have been no deaths linked to any COVID vaccine, let alone 10,688 (Maxson didn't say from where that number was plucked) and their safety records are very good, not "very shaking."
Maxson took another shot at Biden while defending Rodgers anew in a Jan. 23 post:
President and vaccination fanatic Joe Biden recently made a stupid remark to a Green Bay Packers fan urging her to tell quarterback and vaccine opponent Aaron Rogers to get the jab. Appearing on an ESPN TV program Friday, Rodgers retaliated to that and foolish remarks the president has made about vaccines.
Maxson also cheered how "Rodgers also described COVID as being the pandemic of comorbidities, more than it is the pandemic of the unvaccinated" -- never mind that being unvaccinated is very easily fixed, while many comorbidities are not, or that COVID would be less of a threat to those with comorbidities if more people were vaccinated. Maxson also noted that he referenced a claim that "75 percent of the COVID deaths have at least four comorbidities," which is a misreported, out-of-context statement by CDC director Rochelle Walensky. In fact, Walensky was summarizing a study of 1.2 million vaccinated people, in which severe COVID later occurred in .003 percent of patients, or 189 of them, and of those, 36 died; it's from that number that the 75 percent figure is pulled as having four or more comorbidities, for a total of 29.
Maxson concluded by sneering: "So much for know-nothing presidents falsely calling COVID “the pandemic of the unvaccinated.” Mr. Biden, would you care for a dose of truth serum?" Seems like Maxson is the one who desperately needs a hit of truth serum.
Novak Djokovic, anti-vaxxer hero
Simmons used an Oct. 26 post to gush over tennis star Novak Djokovic selfishly refusing to get vaccinated ahead of the Australian Open tournament, even though Australia called for foreign visitors to be vaccinated:
Novak Djokovic is without question one of the greatest tennis players of our generation. Nevertheless, he is often branded as a villain of the sport due to his racket-smashing shenanigans and his willingness to challenge the level-headed, gentlemanly mold of a tennis player with his intense competitiveness. But the villain might now be the hero in a greater cause after his stand against the Australian government.
Just like a right-winger to portray people trying to preserve public health as "bullies and tyrants."
But as the tournament neared and questions were raised about the medical exemption Djokovic claimed to have received, Simmons rushed to his defense again in a Jan. 5 post:
Tennis player Novak Djokovic has received a medical exemption from taking the COVID vaccine, allowing him to play in the prestigious Australian Open tournament. However, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison is attempting to intimidate the star beforehand, threatening that Djokovic will be sent home if his medical exemption does not meet Australia’s standards.
Simmons went on to laud Djokovic because "he has already won the fight against medical tyranny in several ways" by finagling his way into the tournament without being vaccinated" and declaring him a "rebel" fighting against the island's "draconian ways."
Maxson used a Jan. 12 post to complain that Howard Stern argued Djokovic should be banned from tennis for not being vaccinated. Maxson retorted: "Well, guess what, Howard? Djokovic already had COVID-19. How many more times does Stern think he’ll catch it without the vaccine that needs multiple booster shots to actually finish the job and prevent COVID-19 forever?"
Simmons hyperventilated in a Jan. 14 post:
Novak Djokovic’s intense battle to have his visa approved by the Australian government took a turn for the worse when Immigration Minister Alex Hawke revoked the tennis star’s visa and threatened him with deportation, even though Djokovic has done nothing wrong.
In fact, Djokovic did do something wrong: he messed up his visa paperwork, and he refuses to disclose the exact reason for his medical exemption -- and then it was revealed that Djokovic had caught COVID the month before, which had not been previously disclosed.
Rather than tell his readers those relevant facts, Simmons raged that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is someone "many rightly consider a tyrant," then praised Djokovic again as a hero against the purported hellscape that is Australia:
The result of those sacrifices has created a world in which policemen can fire rubber bullets into a crowd of protestors and get away with it and where police have the authority to separate a child from its mother. Australians are not free, the government is in full control over everyone and everything, and that’s how people like Morrison and Hawke want to keep it.
Djokovic lost his appeals and was barred from playing at the Australian Open. Simmons cheered him again in a Jan. 26 post after player Daniil Medvedev said he was losing a match until he asked himself, "What would Novak do?" (Unmentioned was the fact that Medvedev did something Djokovic didn't do: he had his visa papers in order and he didn't try to deceive Australian officials.) Simmons went into full gush mode again:
It is quite comical to see that Djokovic has caused quite the stir Down Under, even when he was deported back to Serbia for “not having a legitimate enough reason” to be in Australia to compete in the Australian Open. The man is not even in the country, and he’s still living rent-free in the minds of those who are mad that he had the nerve to stand against Australia’s pervasive and restrictive vaccine mandates.
But Simmons still wasn't done fawning over Djokovic, upgrading him to full-blown martyr in a Feb. 15 post:
Novak Djokovic was crucified by the media and deported by the Australian government after not providing “sufficient enough information” to receive a vaccine exemption so he could participate in the Australian Open. Despite all the trials he has had to endure because of his stance, his resolve to defy medical tyranny has not wavered.
In reality, Djokovic exposed himself as a selfish jerk who cares only about himself and not about the society in which he lives. No wonder conservatives like Simmons love the guy.