Why is Aaron Rodgers’ Leadership Constantly Under Fire?

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Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. This much I know.

I also was firmly in the quarterback’s corner when allegedly unnecessary cheap shots were thrown his way by commentators, former NFL players and relatives and agents of his current teammates.  It appeared to me, at the time, that these comments were driven mainly by jealously of Rodgers’ success.  Rodgers has long stated that success wouldn’t change who he was, and fans took him at his word for it.

That said, after a recent piece by Rob Reischel of Packers Plus that states Rodgers’ leadership ability took some hits this season.  Rodgers’ leadership ability has been coming under fire with so much regularity that I’m beginning to wonder what exactly is going on.

Keeping in mind that none of the critical remarks directed at Rodgers this past year came directly from current (or former) teammate, but sometimes in these types of situations  the same things get repeated over and over so frequently that you cannot help to think that maybe just some of this has merit.

I don’t think Rodgers is a bad person or a bad leader.  His off the field work, both publicly and privately, show how good of a heart Rodgers really does have. The team’s success this year shows he isn’t an ineffective leader and is able to carry a team on his back for a season in which they rarely had a fully healthy group of receivers.

What this constant criticism tells me (as does Rodgers’ responses) is that he is a very sensitive person.  That sensitivity was put under the spotlight in a piece on Rodgers done for CBS’ 60 Minutes news program where both Rodgers and some current teammates were interviewed. Rodgers naturally bristled at the piece and criticized it heavily during his weekly radio show.

Being sensitive is by no means a bad quality in a person but it can hinder one’s ability to lead a group of people. I, as a very sensitive person myself, have seen this first hand in my own life.  It doesn’t make someone a “bad” leader but rather makes them less able to handle criticism and makes them more likely to hold a grudge. Like I said, I’m guilty as charged of this myself. People who follow me on Twitter know how I can get when I come under fire.

As for Rodgers, everyone has seen the positive effects of his sensitivity when he plays with a chip on his shoulder, but rarely do they see the negative implications of this such as making it hard to forgive people and not taking criticism personally.

Of course, some fans can play a big role in this by thinking Rodgers can do now wrong and not understanding the quarterback is not above criticism.  Some Packers fans, especially of late, have refused to accept any criticism of Rodgers as valid.  Rodgers is usually very good at not letting outside sources influence him, bu who’s to say that this combined with his natural sensitivity is letting things go to his head.  Perhaps he realized this after this season when he made his remark about the team lacking the “hunger” that they did in 2010.

The fans are of course defending the quarterback of their team that happens to be perhaps the best quarterback in the NFL.  That’s their right.  Packers fans, of all people however, should be wary of blindly defending a quarterback.  It’s a lesson they should have learned from the whole Brett Favre debacle in 2008.

I’m not saying Rodgers has reached Favre territory on the diva meter. He’s not even close.  Rodgers has lobbied publicly for his own teammates and not a free agent like Favre did with Moss, but it’s a fine line to walk.   When McCarthy and Thompson disagree with something Rodgers wants, the quarterback seems to accept that move on which Favre didn’t do.

For now, Rodgers deserves the benefit of the doubt.  The team had by all accounts a successful season despite getting blown out again in the playoffs by what could be the eventual Super Bowl Champions.

The offense still had a strong season and Rodgers again was brilliant throwing for 39 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.   His past two seasons combine to be the best two year period for a quarterback in NFL history.

That means that, perhaps because of inflated expectations, perhaps all this talk about Rodgers’ leadership ability is nothing more than an overreaction by fans who are still incredibly angry about the way the Packers’ season came to an end or by people who just flat out don’t like Rodgers.

Here is where Reischel comes into play.  The book he wrote on Rodgers, “Aaron Rodgers: Leader of the Pack,” was scrutinized by the Packers quarterback and of course Reischel would be upset by the subject of his book not liking it.  It’s only a human reaction.

Reischel should be professional enough to still be able to objectively approach a story about Rodgers.  This was an issue former Green Bay Press Gazette writer Chris Havel faced when he wrote books with Rodgers’ predecessor, Favre. Fair or not, once you write a book about a player you are forever labeled either for them or against them depending on the viewpoint of the book.

Does Reischel’s recent article reek of a hatchet job?  In a way, yes.  The way Reischel talked about Rodgers eavesdropping on reporters talking to Desmond Bishop and replying with snide remarks to the gathered media seems to lack vital context.  Plus, if it had actually occurred, this should have come out a lot sooner than it did especially in today’s world of social media.

Part of the problem was that Rodgers and many other players refused to talk to the media after the loss to the 49ers and they have no one to blame but themselves for the negative reaction the players have received since that game.

Look, I get the players were angry at the loss and were still coming to terms with emotions of having their season come to an end.  If you don’t talk however, there is nothing a writer can do but speculate and that often leads to trouble.

If the NFL really was serious about the players talking to the media, perhaps an extended cooling off period after a game before the press conferences start would help. Of course, this in turn would lead to less juicy sound bytes and therefore less publicity for the NFL. God forbid that would ever happen.

To sum things up, Rodgers’ leadership is constantly under fire because of many things.  He’s a sensitive person so when a quarterback in the NFL comes under criticism, some sparks are to be expected.   That said, Reischel’s reaction to Rodgers’ critique of his book cannot be dismissed in influencing the article he recently wrote.

As the current king of NFL quarterbacks, Rodgers is under a very bright spotlight.  He may not like it, but he will continue to be in it so long as he plays well and the Packers are winning.  I can’t say for sure what is going on inside the head of Rodgers, but maybe it’s time for both sides here to respect who the people on the other side are.

Rodgers has the highest profile position on the team and is the face of the Packers.  With that power comes responsibility and Rodgers has been responsible with it so far in his tenure as the Packers’ starting quarterback.  He doesn’t conform to what other star athletes are and is an incredibly private person.  That alone is enough to drive a reporter crazy, but the media should respect that and not take shots out of spite.

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Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke

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  • mark gast

    Articles like this make me think that some media people have too much time on their hands. Is this really news? Paid reporter probably ought to be doing some real investigative reporting instead of covering rumors about a players leadership.

    • RDF67

      Time to do some hard analysis of Mike McCarthy. Couldn’t get along with Favre, doesn’t give ARod the reins. New OC could add some life to Pack – but MM won’t let go.

  • http://www.yahoo.com mark

    Aaron Rodgers is the best qb in football. Period. Anyone that questions his leadership is clueless. Hear me Finley?

    • Barutan Seijin

      Are on the field QBing and leadership the same thing? Not sure they are.

  • Bob

    Mark,

    “Anyone that questions his leadership is clueless. Hear me Finley?”

    It wasn’t Finley, but Finley’s agent who raised the question via twitter. Finley and Rodgers seem just fine with each other after they had a chance to get on the same page. And it shows in their performance with each other.

    • http://www.yahoo.com mark

      Really? Finley also said he was not “on the same page with Rodgers” in an interview. The reason Finley wasn’t on the same page is because he was dropping every pass thrown his way. Where do you think Finley’s agent got the idea Rodgers wasn’t a leader? From a book?

  • FireMMNow

    Rodgers is willing to be outspoken and state his opinions to the media, so he has to be willing to suck it up and take it when the media turns on him a little bit. Win a superbowl next year and he will be back to being a great leader. No one will ever know what the locker room thinks until long after they are all retired.

  • Ron LC

    Two-bit, petty weasels of the MJS need to stoke a fire of controversy to satisfy their even dumber bosses who envy all the coverage Notre Dame is getting from imaginary girl friends. So, a directive was issued from the Sports Dept editor to access McGinn’s imaginary sources and do a hit piece on Aaron. That little pencil necked weasel Rieschel was happy to comply with imaginary sources of his own. I hate the MJS media turds,led by the biggest lying turd of all, Mc Ginn.

    • LMB

      Ooooooh Ron, that bites but I agree too. When you are a craftsman and do excellent work, it’s hard to be told you are subpar. AR is NOT subpar. He is a Packer and as Packer fans we will stand by him. One day, his swagger and talent may become subpar but until then, he is the leader of this team. His team mates are not the people who have questioned his leadership as much as those agents/ siblings etc. money talks whether it’s truth or rumor which is a shame. Social media definitely moves things along quickly regardless of fact checking.

  • Lucas

    Aaron was taking a stand against the lack of coverage the MACC deserved. That’s not being sensitive, that’s being a man of conviction.

  • DaveB

    If the media desires a player to have a problem, they will create a calumany for the player. Earlier in the year Rodgers was abrupt with the media and they have been on him ever since. Perhaps the sports writers and media should be held accountable for ethical reporting but with that said it is completely oxy-moronic..

  • Oppy

    Meh.

    Rodgers is a fine leader, by example, but he doesn’t seem to be a step-up, take charge, lead men into the fray, passionate fire and brimstone type leader.

    Some players want that, some need it. Whatever, I think he’s fine, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the guys would respond a bit more to a more animated, vocal leader. It is what it is.

    P.s.- Greg Jennings was probably rumbling about it to his sister.. He’s coming off two injury plagued years, is in a contract year and doesn’t think he’ll be resigned, while Rodgers seemingly has moved his focus to Nelson and Cobb. He’s probably bitching about Rodgers a bit behind the scenes because he’s worried he wasn’t being given enough opportunities to showcase himself for other teams. Oh well. Of course, that’s COMPLETELY baseless.

    • Chad Toporski

      You could also argue that about the coach… Of course, then the fans get upset when McCarthy gets too “emotional” on the sidelines.

      Can one have it both ways?

      • Oppy

        I’m sure Jennings isn’t happy with the organization/ MM. I’m on record right here on allgreenbaypackers as having stated that I think there’s indicators that Jennings’ displeasure with the way his injury was treated was due to a difference in opinion in what was best for him as a pending FA player and what was best for the Packers- I think the Packers looked at Jennings injury and the prognosis was it was something you could play through without surgery, although it wouldn’t fully heal until the offseason and surgery, but they would get the most of Jennings’ production with him on the field for most of the year, allowing him to surgery/rehab after a SB run. I think Jennings and his agent said, “Oh no you don’t, we’re having surgery NOW, sitting out a number of games NOW during 2012, so 85 will be 100% not for the 2012 season or a superbowl run, but rather, for the 2013 free agent tryouts Greg will be doing, aka job interviews for his new team in 2013.”

        As far as MM being emotional and having it either both ways, I’m not concerned over such things- I wasn’t a spoiled child, I understand that (usually) you can’t have your cake and eat it too, and I’m alright with that. I’m a big boy. :)

    • Razer

      …He’s probably bitching about Rodgers a bit behind the scenes because he’s worried he wasn’t being given enough opportunities to showcase himself for other teams. Oh well. Of course, that’s COMPLETELY baseless….

      Completely baseless like your surmising that this is the scenario behind the sister’s Tweet. Maybe Jennings sister is just a over zealous fan who only sees her brother on the field

      • Oppy

        Hate to take the sting out of your response, Razer, but I was referring to my scenario as being admittedly baseless.

        I guess I made my comment more confusing when I attempted to clarify that I had no facts to back up my theory.

  • Scott 1956

    Lets look at another great NFL QB, Tom Brady. Everybody talks all the time about what a great leader Brady is. All we ever see is that when something goes wrong for Tom, you see him on the sideline screaming at his WR’s or offensive linemen. That’s not leadership! Does Rodgers talk too much to the press about players he wants to stay on the team? YES! Does that make him a bad leader? Not yet, but if this complaining continues, it might. On the field, you never see Rodgers show up anybody. If he thinks something is wrong, he will talk to the player. Calmly! They discuss what happened, and then you always see Rodgers smiling or patting the player on his head. THAT makes him a good leader on the field!

  • Chad Toporski

    As an Army veteran, I can tell you that being a “leader” and being a “nice guy” or a “friend” are not synonymous. According to our definition, leaders provide “purpose, direction, and motivation.” If Rodgers is doing those things, then he is being a leader.

    Snide remarks to/about the media, though disheartening, have no bearing on leadership. Nor does an agent, a player’s sister, or a washed up player-turned-analyst.

    • Lucas

      How do you identify a leader? You look for the person that everybody is following. Is there any doubt that the other 52, practice squad, and injured reserve follow #12?

      • Oppy

        I think more men on the Packers follow #21 than #12, although, admittedly, that may be due to dyslexia amongst the ranks.

    • Oppy

      We need to hire more military men at my place of work.

      I’m surrounded by people who IMO, errantly believe that leaders need to be liked and buddy-buddy with the workers to be effective. It’s like todays’ parents who are more worried about being friends with their kids than being their parent.

      It’s a bunch of warm-n-fuzzy BS that doesn’t get it done. Leaders need to be respected, not liked. If you can do both, that’s a huge bonus. You can be disliked but respected and still be a great leader; the opposite can not be said, however.

      • Ken Allen

        IMHO,
        You can be friendly with a leader.
        You can have respect for a leader.
        You can want to work hard for a leader.
        But they can NOT be your ‘BUDDY’!
        Once they become that, then you feel you are on equal footing with them. Their word is too easily questioned and respect wanes.
        A leader will tell you what is expected of you. If you don’t do the job, they should be expected to chastise you for not doing the job. A leader will point-out your mistakes and expect you to not repeat them. If you do, then it’s on YOU. A ‘buddy’ wouldn’t go hard enough on you to make an impression. And if he DID, then you are ‘put out’ and take it personally.
        There has to be separation between the leaders and followers. Personality shouldn’t factor into decision making. As for sports … you are part of a team, but the leader is always just a tad above everyone else. As long as the leader does HIS job, he should expect everyone else to do THEIRS. Getting called on sub-par execution should be expected and accepted. Just sayin’

  • Buddy

    Maybe Rodgers is not being a vocal leader because what he is really feeling is he should have 3 SB rings. Maybe he is choosing his words carefully because if he was a loudmouth he would have called out his defense.Give him a stud defense and they would rewrite history books. Just sayin.

    • Oppy

      If you really feel you should have three superbowl rings and you don’t..

      If you really feel your defense is at fault for not having those rings…

      That’s EXACTLY when a leader is “a loudmouth” and calls out his team mates.

      That’s EXACTLY when a leader points the finger, lays it out on the table.

      That’s EXACTLY when a leader tells his men he KNOWS they are better than that.

      That’s EXACTLY when a leader CHALLENGES those same men to achieve to their ability, and then push past it.

      And that’s EXACTLY when that leader has proved his worth and done a great service to his team mates, when he works twice as hard to help those same men meet their goals as he already works to meet his own.

      Call me old fashioned, but sometimes you are doing people a disservice by not chewing an ass here and there.

  • Razer

    Good article an a tough subject to broach, particularly with a sensitive guy and adoring fans. At times, I worry about his ego getting in the way of playing on a team with varying degrees of egos. I remember AR commenting on MM’s poor decision to try a trick play on a punt (against the Bears). He called it a poor decision and a bad call. Maybe so, but your coach doesn’t throw you under the bus when you make bad plays or decisions. Sometimes I wish that he would let his play do the talking and keep his reviews to himself.

    The comparisons to Favre may not be far off. Recently, AR commented that they should make every effort to resign Woodson. Sounds like AR leaving a public message on TT’s answering machine. Don’t get me wrong, I like AR and respect his talent BUT I, like the author, wonder why we smell smoke.

    • Lucas

      I’m not sure why raising questions and making comments and having opinions leads to a questioning of his leadership or thinking he is sensitive. Keeping your mouth closed does not make you a leader. Opening your mouth does not make you a leader. The same for sensitivity. Perhaps what people question is A-Rod’s lack of followership (of political correctness?, media expectations?, other?).
      He acts on his convictions.
      On the other end of the argument, if he is sensitive, why is it spoken of as a bad thing? Why is it assumed that sensitive and leadership are opposites?

      • Razer

        …On the other end of the argument, if he is sensitive, why is it spoken of as a bad thing?…

        It is not a bad thing unless it translates to giving a punch but not being able to take a punch. Rodgers wants to promote his brand and takes up 60 Minutes as a platform. Were they out to “get him” or did they portray him as seen? I don’t know the truth of this portrayal, but, if you are going to play this game then expect the punch in the face.

        • LMB

          By the time a professional reaches his peak, he’s had his fair share of punches. I think a leader is someone who does lead by example and who others want to be like. No cry baby, no hissy fits or pouting. We all have bad days and it would be unfair to be fixated with that one moment that was seen on TV or read in the paper or heard on the radio. MaybeAR was a bit naive when he did the 60 Minutes segment. I can see why he was upset for the portion that never made it? What a dumb thing to focus on…..someone’s sensitivity about his height rather than a passion for the MACC. Meh

    • http://allpackers wedge9702

      #21 is a proven leader for the defense and in the locker room. #12 ( I think ) is more of a low key type of player but his leadership is proven with his golden arm. G.B won without Woodson but where are they without Rodgers??

  • mcgregor

    The Green Bay and National media have slobbered over AR these past seasons. I’m sure he’s heard “He’s the best QB in the league!” and the asinine “he’s a HOF QB!” His on-field performance is perfect, his stats are remarkable. I find him robotic, devoid of personality and magic moments and helped enormously by the great receiving corps provided by TT. Hmm, I wonder what Stafford, Cutler, Luck, etc. would accomplish with this group. But given all of AR’s attributes, I guess he’s earned the right to be sensitive about certain issues. One thing is definite, the best QB in the league once again didn’t make it past the division round, both times losing in embarassing fashion.

    • sawdustcity

      You fail too mention the what. 51 sacks he took this year, the dropped passes, the inability of the defense to get him back on the field? Being stoic and not freaking out when things go wrong don’t make someone “robotic” but define the person as focused.

      • http://allpackers wedge9702

        I agree. Never saw #12 push or degrade any lineman after a sack. What would you do after running for your life on every other snap? I could see myself getting pretty crabby!

  • Since’61

    Rodgers record and on field performance speak for themselves. Anyone who thinks that Rodgers isn’t the best QB in the league doesn’t know what they are watching or what the position is about. I am a dislocated Packers fan and live in NJ where we listen to Sports Radio on WFAN with Mike Francesca the #1 radio show in the U.S. he’ been in since the mid-80s and his answer to the best QB in the league since 2010 is Aaron Rodgers , case closed!