GREEN BAY – How is Aaron Rodgers feeling about Ryan Braun right about now?
Is the Green Bay Packers quarterback regretting his decision to publicly support his friend in December 2011? Is he wishing he hadn’t fired off such emotional – is there any other way to describe them? – Tweets in the wake of an arbitrator ruling in Braun’s favor on his appeal of his Major League Baseball suspension in February 2012? Is he wondering what he got himself into when he opened the Milwaukee-area restaurant 8-Twelve with the now-suspended Milwaukee Brewers outfielder?
It’s likely that Rodgers will be asked variations of all those questions on Friday, when he stands at his locker following the Packers’ first training-camp practice, assuming he doesn’t cut off the line of questioning before it gets that far.
The guess here, though, is that Rodgers is feeling a little bit like actor Matthew McConaughey did when his friend Lance Armstrong finally came clean and admitted to his own doping and performance enhancing drug use after years of denying it to everyone, including his good friend McConaughey: Conflicted.
“My first reaction was I was pissed off," McConaughey told MTV News at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, in January. “I was mad. I then got kind of sad for him. First off, I had a part of me that took it kind of personally, which I think a lot of people have.
“What I realized is that those of us that took that personally, like, 'Oh, he lied to me!' That's not true. What I mean by this is, what was he supposed to do? Call me to the side and go, 'Hey man, I did it but don't tell anybody.' Then I would have really had a reason to be pissed off at him, going, 'You want me to walk around holding this?’
“Where I am now is I've put myself out of the way and I am happy for this guy, who has now chosen to re-enter this new chapter of his life a truly free man. And the weight he had on his shoulders, without the bogeyman under the bed, the skeleton in the closet that he's carried for 14 years. Fourteen years he lied and carried the lie with him.”
There are only two people who know just what Braun told Rodgers back in 2011 when ESPN’s Outside The Lines first reported that Braun had tested positive for highly elevated testosterone levels, indicating PED use. One’s inclination is to think that Braun told Rodgers the same lies he’d apparently been telling everyone else on earth, right up until he accepted his suspension for the remainder of the 2013 baseball season – 65 games – on Monday.
Why? Because with the exception of one flippant, ill-advised attempt at a joke upon arriving in Green Bay for his first minicamp as a rookie in 2005 – that Brett Favre was “lazy” for skipping the minicamp – it’s nearly impossible to find an instance where Rodgers spoke without thinking. His sometimes controversial, newsmaking comments about football-related issues – the poor quality of the Pro Bowl, the embarrassing officiating of the replacement referees, his belief that rising star Randall Cobb shouldn’t be risked on returns when he was becoming such a vital part of the offense – have always been well thought-out.
His posts to his Twitter account after MLB arbitrator Shayam Das ruled in Braun’s favor, however, read like a friend who was feeling very emotional about what his buddy had been, in his mind, put through unfairly. From his #exonerated post, to calling people “idiots,” to wagering his large salary, to basically suggesting that barbecued crow should be added to the 8-Twelve menu, Rodgers didn’t hold back that day:
MLB and cable sports tried to sully the reputation of an innocent man. Picked the wrong guy to mess with. Truth will set u free #exonerated— Aaron Rodgers (@AaronRodgers12) February 23, 2012
I'll let my buddy take it from here. All u idiots talking about technicality open up for some crow too. See if Espn gets pressured not to..— Aaron Rodgers (@AaronRodgers12) February 23, 2012
In retrospect, cringe-worthy. It’s hard to picture someone as smart as Rodgers telling one of his 1 million followers that he’d stake his 2012 salary (which was $8.5 million, by the way) to the fact that Braun was clean if he did not, in fact, wholeheartedly believe Braun was clean. The more plausible explanation is this: Rodgers is a loyal friend who believed what Braun had presumably told him, that he’d been wrongfully accused and was somehow innocent.
Believing that after Braun accepted his suspension and issued this statement was nearly impossible:
“As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers organization. I am very grateful for the support I have received from players, ownership and the fans in Milwaukee and around the country. Finally, I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed – all of the baseball fans especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization, and my teammates. I am glad to have this matter behind me once and for all, and I cannot wait to get back to the game I love.”
While Braun’s statement was crafted in a way that he never actually admitted to anything – nor really apologized for anything – it really didn’t matter. One would hope that if Rodgers was among those who never got the truth from Braun and supported him anyway, he got a more formal apology than this.
So how does Rodgers feel about Braun right about now? No one really knows. (Rodgers’ Twitter account was quiet Monday, and attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.) The next question is this: Where does Rodgers go from here? Does he disavow Braun? Does he terminate his business relationship with him? Does he abandon a friend he so publicly and adamantly supported now, in a time where Braun needs all the friends he can get – or he has left?
It was interesting to hear Rodgers’ comments on Braun during a Q&A session in mid-June, after Outside the Lines had reported that MLB was seeking a 100-game suspension for Braun.
“Ryan’s a good friend and I care about him a lot as a person. He’s a great person, and I stand with my friend," Rodgers said in that interview. Asked if he’d reached out to Braun, Rodgers replied, “Yeah. We talk all the time. We’re good friends, and obviously we have our restaurant together, and get to spend some time together during the year – whether he’s coming up here to a game, which doesn’t happen a whole lot, or I’m going down there. We see each other at various events, and we definitely keep in touch all year and speak regularly.”
Those comments weren’t nearly as strong as what Rodgers had said in December of 2011, when he said on his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com:
“Ryan and I are good buddies, probably my best athlete friend. And we keep in touch obviously throughout the year. I spend a lot of time with him. I was very surprised the news came out the way it did. You would think that there would be some sort of confidentiality surrounding the situation, because he is appealing it.
“I 100 percent support Ryan and believe in him and it’s not going to affect our friendship in the least. I’m 100 percent supporting him and behind him and believe in everything that he says.
“I’ve known Ryan for a while now and we’ve spent a lot of time hanging out. I’ve been in the locker room and I’ve seen him working out and stuff. It’s just ridiculous, the allegations. I think as much as he probably can’t say a whole lot right now, just the fact that he was willing to take a test right after that (says something).
“I don’t know exactly all that’s out there, but I just am trusting that my good friend has not been using anything illegal. And I’m very confident that’s the case, because I know how much he cares about the integrity of the game and wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that.”
We have all, to varying degrees, had friends let us down. Some of us have been the ones who let their friends down. Such moments can end friendships or, in some cases, lead to relationship growth. It’s all in how those friends handle the aftermath.
If Braun reached out to Rodgers since he met with MLB on June 29, then Rodgers knew what was coming on Monday and wasn’t taken by surprise. If Rodgers didn’t get a heads-up beforehand but has heard from his friend since, then he’s probably digesting everything that happened and thinking about his next step. If he hasn’t heard a peep from Braun, well, then maybe he is regretting having his friend’s back the way he did.
Whatever the case, rest assured of this: Whatever Rodgers says or does next, he will have thought long and hard about it. Unlike his Tweets that day.
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.