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AYAHUASCA AARON SHOULD FOCUS ON THIS DRUG TRIP: A SUPER BOWL TROPHY
Rodgers can alter his mind all he wants with plant-based psychedelics, but as he enters his 18th NFL season after a turbulent 2021, the long-haired hippie is looking at possibly his final title shot
Just to be clear, as Aaron Rodgers finds clarity in psychedelic Kool-Aid, his two ayahuasca experiments would be illegal if conducted in the United States. The Drug Enforcement Agency lists the hallucinogen in the same Schedule I classification as heroin and LSD. So before we all head to Peru in pursuit of gratitude, compassion, self-awareness, serenity and free love in a reddish herbal drink made from the bark of vines and leaves of bushes, please realize it’s something kids shouldn’t do at home.
But you know what? If Rodgers is happier as a 38-year-old stoner hippie with a beard and long hair, I’m happy, too. As long as the authorities don’t care and the NFL insists the substance isn’t on the league’s banned list, it’s more important to America’s mental well-being that the best quarterback on the planet makes peace with the universe.
I speak for millions who’d rather enjoy his extraordinary abilities than spend every day hating him. This is a man who somehow, when he should be among the most admired and glorified athletes of his era, has been so consumed with promoting himself and defending himself — and, evidently, loathing himself — that we’ve grown to resent him. After a hellish 2021 when he engaged in verbal warfare with his team bosses, then refused to be vaccinated while waging a public campaign against those who trust pandemic science, how nice if Rodgers focused on what truly is gnawing at him.
That is: finally winning a second Super Bowl, in what will be his 12th season of trying with the Green Bay Packers.
Do that, and he won’t need to seek further spiritual healing in a South American village, or wherever he found himself in experiences preceding his two most recent MVP seasons in 2020 and 2021. The sports world is funny that way. Winning a championship tends to cure contempt, even if the victor dips into quackery.
“You can't do anything in this life until you really, truly unconditionally love yourself," Rodgers said. “So that's what I had to do. I had to surrender fully to the idea that everything I was telling myself was true. That's when it finally broke. I laid on that mat and made peace with the possibility that all of these lies I was telling myself could possibly be true. In that reality of the worst self-talk you can possibly imagine, feeling like the lowest human on the planet and not worthy ever in this life of unconditional love.
“I laid there with that reality, that being my reality — that all the things I said about myself are true, and are real. And I said ‘Is there anybody in this room who could still love me?’ What came through next was the voice in my head — which wasn't really my voice anymore — and it said: ‘If at your lowest of the low, these people can still love you, then you should be able to love yourself.’ ’’
He spoke on the Aubrey Marcus Podcast, where he mentioned his “ego death” and emptied his most private feelings for public consumption. He delved into his romantic relationships, which have included high-profile hookups with Danica Patrick, Olivia Munn and Shailene Woodley — and new girlfriend Blu (no last name necessary). He talked about tensions that have existed for years in his immediate family. At some point, he might want to hush up and take a more guarded path, like Tom Brady, lest Rodgers be viewed as a crackpot. For now, he’s in a heavy preseason interview mode, telling NBC Sports’ Peter King about his mind-altering journey last year: “I really felt like I wanted to surrender and open up to the medicine for some healing to come through and some direction on how to kind of go about that. … The key is being able to heal all relationships — with (family), past relationships with lovers, whatever it might be. So that gives me a lot of hope in healing at some point.”
Finding his god doesn’t mean he’s going to find a receiver as easily this season, now that Davante Adams has split for the Las Vegas Raiders. The departure of his favorite weapon was collateral damage for Rodgers as he sought more lucrative contractual terms. He’s the league’s highest-paid player, per annual average, after he was extended for three years at $150.8 million — including a fully-guaranteed base salary of $59.3 million in 2023, a $40.8 million signing bonus and a non-guaranteed $49.3 million in 2024. That places the onus on him to shut up and put up in the postseason, where he is 7-9 since the 2011 trophy ceremony and has lost his last four NFC title games. He can use potions to tune out “negative voices” and “fully give my heart to my teammates, my loved ones,” but in the end, Rodgers never will have total life fulfillment until he wins the big one.
He doesn’t have much time left, then, entering his 18th season. Asked if he’ll consider playing as long as Brady, who turned 45 last week, Rodgers had a quick one-word reply: “No.” This might be his final realistic chance for another ring, in a conference where the defending champion Los Angeles Rams already have an elbow tendinitis problem with quarterback Matthew Stafford. Will Tampa Bay’s rebuilt offensive line protect Brady? San Francisco has no idea which version of Trey Lance shows up at QB. Dallas? Philadelphia? Arizona? Please.
So, why not the Packers? Why not Ayahuasca Aaron?
Well, he no longer has an established top-tier wideout. Allen Lazard might develop into a go-to target, but veteran Sammy Watkins is dealing with yet another injury. Randall Cobb is turning 32. Will Rodgers stay upright and maintain optimum health with his best protectors, left tackle David Bakhtiari and guard Elgton Jenkins, recovering from knee issues? Is he willing to accept an offense centered around two outstanding running backs, Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon?
“When you walk in the locker room for so many years and you see 87’s locker over there, Jordy Nelson, or you see Davante Adams, it gives you a different feel,” Rodgers said. “You just know you’ve got that guy. And we have some opportunity for some guys to kind of step into that role. We’re going to take our lumps. And I look forward to that because it’s going to build some character, I think, through the adversity we have to face as an offense after some of the pieces that we don’t have right now.”
He says he ignores the flat-screen TVs that line the walls of his home. He has sworn off political programs, having been the subject of regular COVID-19 hot takes last year when he admitted to lying that he’d been vaxxed. “It’s ugly on both sides,” Rodgers said. “I could feel it when I came out and said what I said. Some of the interview requests — all the right was like, ‘he’s our champion now’ and all the left was like, ‘he’s the enemy.’ Which was people against the vax and people for the vax, basically.
“Politics is a sham, first of all. And I wouldn’t do CNN just like I wouldn’t do Fox News. I have no desire to be a part of this. I’m sharing a personal opinion based on my own health, what I think is best for my body and you can disagree with it all you want, you can agree with it and champion it, but I’m not saying it to gain favor with one side and hate from the other. Naturally my opinion became very polarizing, because feel strongly on both sides about it. I hope, at the bare minimum, that there was conversation that could be had, civil conversation. We’ve taken out of our society a lot of that ability to have differing opinions because one has to be right and one has to be wrong. ‘I have to be smart and you have to be dumb.’ ’’
Rodgers never will be a centrist about any topic. But if he wants to win a Super Bowl, he must keep distractions at a minimum and lower his news-cycle profile. Dillon, for one, senses a difference. “He’s like the cool uncle to me.” he said. “He’s the guy like in college and you’re in middle school, and he’s telling you these cool stories, so every time you go out there, you want to impress him and make sure you’re doing the right thing.”
Never dull, always a conversation piece, Rodgers would serve himself and his team with a more boring approach to weekly life. Having explored his sub-conscience, he says he’s immersed in books now, one that should be his 2022 mantra: “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life.”
Do that, and ayahuasca might become the new American way, even if the side effects kill him and the rest of us.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.