RIGHT NOW WITH RUSSELL: Aaron Rodgers, apologize and pass the football

There was a time not so long ago when superstar athletes were put in their place for making comments about the American flag, presidents, gun laws, gun violence, police brutality, social justice, and a host of other hot-button cultural issues. But lately this same standard hasn’t applied to Aaron Rodgers.

On Jan. 2, the legendary Green Bay Packers quarterback who debuted with the New York Jets earlier this season for 94 seconds before suffering a torn Archilles appeared on Pat McAfee’s ESPN talk show. Without merit, he implied ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel was on the infamous list of associates connected with accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Kimmel, asking for an apology, threatened to sue Rodgers.

The backlash grew so heated that McAfee reversed course Jan. 10 to announce Rodgers would not be returning to his show for the rest of the season. But lo and behold, Rodgers appeared on the Jan. 11 episode to discuss Nick Saban’s retirement and Bill Belichick leaving the New England Patriots. And he still hadn’t apologized to Kimmel.

Unless the calendar is playing tricks on us, we’re still in the NFL season — just ask any Cleveland Browns fan. So, why did McAfee bring Rodgers back? He pivoted to Rodgers’ impressive legacy and clout as a four-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion. But the stronger, more punishable move would’ve been to keep him off the air and deny him a platform. Isn’t alleging pedophilia a serious matter? Maybe we’ve grown so egotistical and prideful as Americans that even the mere thought of apologizing, particularly among men, is still a major sign of weakness. Taking the high road can be a lonely trek.

It’s interesting that the talking heads who giggled when Laura Ingraham told LeBron James to “shut up and dribble” and had a lot to say about Colin Kaepernick’s sideline protest are rather quiet about Rodgers putting his foot in his mouth. Unlike James and Kaepernick who stirred a higher level of kitchen table debate due to opinions that dealt with race, Rodgers aimed lower by simply going after a comedian — an occupation that can be considered fair game. Kimmel’s political barbs in particular can be uncomfortable, but that’s what he’s paid to do: make people laugh even if it stings. So, anyone attacking Kimmel can be viewed by some as virtuous and Rodgers fit the bill.

Credit: Mark Terrill/Invision/AP

Credit: Mark Terrill/Invision/AP

The last thing ESPN needs right now is more controversy. USA Today reported Jan. 11 that the network submitted fake names for Emmy Awards in order to win statues for on-air talent who were actually ineligible to receive them. According to The Athletic, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences discovered the scheme had been going on since 2010, particularly rewarding on-air talent from “College GameDay.” Centerville native and former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit (given the alias “Kirk Henry”) was named among those who falsely received Emmys. The list includes Desmond Howard (“Dirk Howard”) and Samantha Ponder (“Steven Ponder”). ESPN has returned at least 37 Sports Emmys.

As for Rodgers, he appeared on the Jan. 9 episode of McAfee’s show and said the following regarding Kimmel:

“I totally understand how serious an allegation of pedophilia would be, so for him to be upset about that, I get it. I’m not stupid enough, even though you think I’m an idiot and you made a lot of comments about my intelligence, I’m not stupid enough to accuse you of that with absolutely zero evidence, concrete evidence, that’s ridiculous.”

That’s all good and well, but where’s the apology?

During his opening monologue on Jan. 8, Kimmel was still waiting for an apology, saying it’s “what a decent person would do, but I bet he won’t.”

I’m sure deep down, Rodgers is indeed a decent person. And it’s time for him to prove it.

Here’s what else you should know right now:

Emmy Awards air Monday on Fox

Speaking of the Emmys, the 75th annual Primetime Emmy Awards, hosted by Anthony Anderson, will air at 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 15 on Fox. At last weekend’s Creative Arts Emmys ceremonies, “The Last of Us,” HBO’s superb drama about a fungus-infected zombie outbreak in the aftermath of a pandemic, led with eight wins including guest actor (a revelatory Nick Offerman for the outstanding episode “Long, Long, Time”) and guest actress (Storm Reid). “The Last of Us” and “The White Lotus” are chief challengers to frontrunner “Succession” for Best Drama Series. Also expect a big night for terrific frontrunners in comedy (“The Bear”) and limited series (“Beef”).

Right Now with Russell spotlights pop culture every Friday and as news arises. From the latest in film, music, books and TV to the buzz of awards season and other hot button topics, the goal is to fill you in on what’s new in order to satisfy your entertainment cravings. He can be reached at Russell.Florence@coxohio.com.

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