The Wisconsin Badgers men's basketball team has been on a two-year stretch that is unprecedented in school history. After a span from 1942 to 2013 in which they made a single Final Four (in 2000), Bo Ryan's squad has now reached that achievement each of the past two seasons.
Both times they have done so coming out of the West region; both times they played the regional final against the Arizona Wildcats; both times the regional finals have been played in the greater Los Angeles area; and both times, they have had a celebrity fan cheering them on to victory: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers, the two-time NFL Most Valuable Player, has spent the past 10 seasons in Green Bay (the past seven as the Packers' starting quarterback) and helped bring the franchise its fourth Lombardi Trophy and 13th NFL title in Super Bowl XLV, a game for which he won Super Bowl MVP honors. However, it seems many believe that a person who lives and works in Wisconsin for much of the year has no right to be supporting the sports teams of a college he did not personally attend or that his ability to express that support either should be limited or does not go far enough.
The worst offender here is Dennis Dodd of CBS, who seems to have dubbed himself the defender of the post-game on-court credential and judge and jury over when certain sports figures should give interviews. Take a look at these gems from Dodd, tweeted after the Badgers defeated Arizona on Saturday evening and cut down the nets at the Staples Center:
Aaron Rodgers in one of the biggest moments in the state's history -- ignoring how media has shaped his image -- "I'm not doing interviews"— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) March 29, 2015
Dear Wisco fan: If it was about the Badgers, then why was A Rodgers on court? Credentialed media only.— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) March 29, 2015
Here's the equivalent of what A Rodgers did today. I crash his wedding to Olivia because I'm a big "fan."— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) March 29, 2015
Still wondering what difference is between two uncredentialed fans on court. One dates an actress and is good at sports. Other isn't.— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) March 29, 2015
Where do we draw the line? USC can't have celebs on sideline anymore after sanctions. But feel-good A Rodgers can be on court with Badgers?— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) March 29, 2015
This seems like Dodd, upset because he didn't get to go inside the three-point line while the Badgers cut down the nets, is taking his frustration out on the most high-profile person there: Rodgers. In essence, "that guy got to go somewhere I couldn't, so I'm going to lash out because he's a public figure and an easy target." Did Dodd bother to check with anyone to back up his claim that Rodgers did not have a credential? Apparently not, as #12 took to Twitter later in the evening to set the record straight:
Oh. Well. I bet Dennis Dodd feels silly now. Maybe he'll actually go to Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez and voice his complaints about Rodgers' presence on the court being inappropriate. Maybe he'll even ask Barry why Rodgers wouldn't do interviews. But let's face it - that's probably not going to happen, and frankly, Barry wouldn't owe him any answers anyhow. In any case, this at a minimum renders all of Dodd's arguments about "uncredentialed fans" completely moot.
To be fair to Dodd, he's technically correct (which, according to some people, is the best kind of correct). Rodgers did not have a credential - he had a wristband given to him by the UW program which allowed him access to the floor for the post-game celebration (see clarification here and here from the NCAA's David Worlock).
(Side note: I hope that if Rodgers and Munn do end up getting married, they have one of the Packers' linebackers working security and keeping an eye out for Dodd at all times.)
One of the best parts of Dodd's troll job, however, discusses how the media has created Rodgers' image when complaining about not getting an interview with him. Not surprisingly, Dodd was one of Marshawn Lynch's critics earlier this year as the Seahawks running back apparently did not satisfy some media members' expectations leading up to the Super Bowl. Personally, I would have loved it if Rodgers pulled a Lynch and responded to Dodd's every question with "Yeah." But in this case, Rodgers is not bound by any collective bargaining agreement that stipulates that he has any media obligations and so he has every right to decline to speak with the media. This reeks of the same sort of indignation and self-importance that pervaded the rest of the Lynch saga this season.
As for the refusal to give an interview itself, there's a very good reason for it: Rodgers recognizes that he is not the focus here. While he is the highest-profile athlete in the state of Wisconsin (and the second-most-popular thing in the state behind only cheese), one thing he understands is when to take a back seat and let others - in this case the Wisconsin basketball team - get the attention for their accomplishments. Personally, I'm impressed that he chose not to be interviewed and, as Rodgers indicates, Dodd's second question about why he got on the court needs to be addressed to Alvarez.
Barry's rationale is simple, though. Wisconsin is not a basketball program that traditionally has drawn massive fan or media attention from around the country. Despite the team having the best offensive efficiency in Division I basketball this year, many TV analysts sent to cover the game (looking at you, Reggie Miller) still talk about them as though they are a plodding, defensive-oriented team. Alvarez likely knows that drawing any additional eyeballs on the team is a good thing for the program and for Wisconsin athletics in general. So with Rodgers already in town for the games and already having a personal relationship with the team, why not let him on the court after the game? It's a fun thing for the players to get to see an elite athlete supporting them, and as a side benefit there might be a few extra eyeballs on the Badgers moving forward.
Does Dennis Dodd have similar problems with Ashley Judd having a similar "celebrity fan" status for Kentucky? Apparently not:
Having said all this, I will not say a word when Ashley Judd shows up at Kentucky pressers in Indy.— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) March 29, 2015
Well there's that. Why is Dodd okay with Judd's celebrity fan status? Maybe it's because Judd is a Kentucky alumna. Maybe he just really loved "Double Jeopardy." Who knows, but it certainly seems like a double standard.
If this silly spat from Dodd weren't enough, let's look at another hit piece on Rodgers' Wisconsin fandom, published by the always-reputable New York Post on Friday after the regional semifinal win over North Carolina. In short, it criticizes Rodgers and Munn for being bandwagon fans in supporting the Badgers. It further criticizes the two because they each went to different colleges, Rodgers attending California and Munn graduating from Oklahoma.
(Pay no mind to the fact that Cal went 18-15 and missed the NCAA Tournament this year, and therefore did not offer Rodgers an opportunity to cheer for his own school in the postseason.)
Let's think briefly about why the two were in L.A. for the games this weekend, however. Remember last year's West regional, when Rodgers was also seen supporting the Badgers? That was in Anaheim. This year's was in downtown Los Angeles. And where does Rodgers make his offseason home? San Diego, which is a 90-minute drive from Anaheim and a two-hour drive from L.A. In addition, Rodgers has developed friendships with several players, such as West Regional Most Outstanding Player Sam Dekker and Wisconsin alumnus and ESPN golf analyst Andy North, who is a major donor to the Badger basketball program. In fact, Rodgers and Munn were seated next to North this weekend. Furthermore, Rodgers has also expressed his support of other Wisconsin sports teams as well, namely the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Though the Brewers made the NLCS in 2011 and the Bucks are a young team on the rise, nobody would mistake those two franchises for perennial powers at any point in Rodgers' tenure in Green Bay.
Finally, one other ridiculous criticism of Rodgers lately has been making the rounds among a small sect of Wisconsin fans. The argument basically boils down to this: if Rodgers were a "true" Wisconsin fan, his presence and obvious excitement and cheering aren't enough, as he should be wearing red to show it.
Rodgers even felt the need to respond to this absurd argument as well on Saturday evening:
2 semesters at Butte 3 semesters at Cal 10 years a Wisconsin resident. I'll pull for any team I want. But I don't wear red.— Aaron Rodgers (@AaronRodgers12) March 29, 2015
This one is painfully simple to explain. While Rodgers is supporting Wisconsin, in not wearing red he is remaining true to his roots and his time at the University of California. Because Cal's biggest rival is the Stanford Cardinal (who wear...you guessed it...red), it is Rodgers' personal rule to not wear that color.
In fact, a dislike of that color is so strong among Cal fans that they apparently chant "Take off that red shirt!" at any person wearing red, especially during Cal-Stanford games. It's a rule and a tradition that has stuck with Rodgers since his days in Berkeley.
For comparison, imagine a hypothetical scenario where a major college in Houston, let's call it North Houston Tech, wears maroon and gold colors. J.J. Watt, the former Wisconsin defensive end who now plays for the Texans, has repeatedly expressed his support for the other sports teams in the Houston area, such as the Rockets and Astros. How would a Badger fan feel if Watt had become friends with people in the North Houston Tech basketball program and showed up to one of their NCAA tournament games wearing maroon and gold, the same colors as the Minnesota Golden Gophers? I know I, as a fellow Wisconsin alumnus, would be angry with Watt, but I would have no issues if he were there in support of that school wearing a non-committal color.
The same goes here for Rodgers and his fellow Cal Bears. He is cheering for the Badgers, who typically have no positive or negative connection to Cal, while remaining true to his school by not wearing the colors of its rival.
Mystery solved, case closed.
Ultimately, Rodgers is a member of the Wisconsin sports community; in fact, he is almost certainly the highest-profile member of that community. There is absolutely nothing wrong with him supporting other members of that community and doing so in the manner he sees fit - as well as staying true to the traditions of the school that he himself attended.
There is also nothing wrong with the leader of another section of that community extending Rodgers an opportunity to express that support by joining in the celebration of a great victory.
When you say "Wisconsin," you've said it all. But in this case, one picture should do the trick:
This says it all… pic.twitter.com/InikUSqKka— Drew Olson (@DrewOlsonMKE) March 29, 2015