Aaron Rodgers isn't vaccinated, but did he break NFL COVID-19 protocols?
A reporter asked Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in August if he had been vaccinated against COVID-19.
"Yeah, I've been immunized," he replied.
It turns out there was more to the story than that.
After Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed to the USA TODAY Network that the nine-time Pro Bowler has not, in fact, been vaccinated. The person was granted anonymity because they were not permitted to speak publicly about the matter.
Rodgers' vaccination status means he will be sidelined until at least Nov. 13, knocking him out of Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs and putting into question his availability for the Packers' subsequent game against the Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 14.
It also raises questions about whether Rodgers, 37, has been adequately following COVID-19 protocols.
Under those protocols, which were approved by the NFL and NFL Players Association over the summer, unvaccinated players are subject to more stringent rules than vaccinated players. They are required to wear masks "at all times when inside the Club facility," including while working out in the weight room. They're subject to daily PCR testing. And they are barred from coming within six feet of other unvaccinated players while traveling or eating meals.
Rodgers has been tested for COVID-19 on a daily basis, according to another person with knowledge of the situation. But it is immediately unclear whether he has complied with the other regulations.
Rodgers has not worn an mask while speaking to members of the media at news conferences, which are held inside the team facility. And video has circulated on social media of him attending a Halloween party over the weekend with other Packers players. In the brief footage, Rodgers is not wearing a mask.
NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said the league is "aware of the current situation in Green Bay and will be reviewing with the Packers."
"The primary responsibility for enforcement of the Covid Protocols within Club facilities rests with each Club," he said in a statement. "Failure to properly enforce the protocols has resulted in discipline being assessed against individual Clubs in the past."
When asked Wednesday if he is confident that the Packers and its players had complied with the league protocols this season, coach Matt LaFleur said: "In our building? Absolutely."
LaFleur declined to comment on Rodgers' vaccination status or how long the quarterback is expected to be out, but he confirmed that Jordan Love will start Sunday.
Third-string quarterback Kurt Benkert is also on the COVID-19 list.
"I think everybody has to make their own personal decision," LaFleur said when asked generally about players' decisions to get the vaccine. "That's just what it is."
Rodgers' positive test for COVID-19 is the latest in a string of positives that have impacted the Packers, who are sitting atop the NFC at 7-1.
Star wide receiver Davante Adams and defensive coordinator Joe Barry are among those who missed the team's most recent game against the Arizona Cardinals due to COVID-19. Allen Lazard, another wide receiver, was forced to sit out 10 days because he is not vaccinated, according to reports.
While Rodgers used the word "immunized" rather than "vaccinated" in his August news conference, he at least facilitated the impression that he had received the vaccine.
"You know, there’s a lot of conversation around it, around the league, and a lot of guys who have made statements, not made statements, owners who’ve made statements," Rodgers said. "There’s guys on the team that haven’t been vaccinated. I think it’s a personal decision. I’m not going to judge those guys. There’s guys that have been vaccinated that have contracted COVID. So it’s an interesting issue."
When asked in a follow-up question if he got the shot for competitive reasons, Rodgers didn't dispute the characterization.
"... I like to learn about everything that I’m doing," he said. "There was a lot of research that even went into that. But like I said, there’s been people that have tested positive and I think it’s only vaccinated people here. So it’s going to be interesting to see how things work moving forward."
Under the NFL-NFLPA protocols, unvaccinated players are subject to a fine of $14,650 if they refuse to wear a mask or maintain physical distancing in club facilities or during travel, with repeat violations leading to "increased discipline, including for conduct detrimental with a maximum fine amount equal to one week’s salary and/or suspension without pay for a period not to exceed four (4) weeks."
Unvaccinated players can also face fines if they appear in crowded off-the-field settings, including bars, night clubs, concert halls and gatherings of more than 15 people in which masks are not being worn.
Contributing: Mike Jones, Tom Silverstein and Ryan Wood
Contact Tom Schad at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.