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Who is Aaron Rodgers? Over lengthy career as NFL star, he's offered only clues

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In the spring of 2016, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers made an appearance on a podcast called "You Made It Weird" with comedian Pete Holmes.

For more than two hours, they covered a expansive range of topics, most unrelated to football. Organized religion, for example. Love. History. UFO sightings. Reincarnation. "Question everything," Rodgers said. It had become something of a life motto.

"To question everything doesn’t mean that you don’t have faith in things and don’t believe in anything and want to just be the devil’s advocate in every conversation," he continued. "It’s just that, there’s things going on more than we see and feel."

The podcast offered a glimpse into Rodgers' personality and interests away from football – a select window into his world view.

His interview on "The Pat McAfee Show" last week offered another.

Two days after testing positive for COVID-19, Rodgers spoke for more than 45 minutes about his decision to not get one of the three approved COVID-19 vaccines, his skepticism of the shots' efficacy and safety, and the treatments he had pursued instead. Many of his claims about the virus and the vaccine were either false or misleading.

Aaron Rodgers was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 2005.
Aaron Rodgers was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 2005.

It was a stance that Rodgers had previously declined to disclose. When asked in August if he had been vaccinated, he said that he had been "immunized" and went on to describe getting the vaccine as a personal choice, without going into much depth beyond that.

"Personal health decisions, in my opinion, should be private," Rodgers explained more recently, on "The Pat McAfee Show." "And they shouldn’t have to be gone through the ringer and overscrutinized by people who are just pushing their own types of propaganda onto people and ideals."

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Rodgers' comments about COVID-19 vaccines came as a shock to many NFL fans, given what they thought they knew about the Packers quarterback.

Until last week, they knew him as the "discount double check" guy from years of State Farm ads. The guy who made a cameo appearance on "Game of Thrones" and served as a temporary host of Jeopardy. Or perhaps the guy who dated two high-profile actors – including fiancée Shailene Woodley – and a retired racecar driver, Danica Patrick.

Yet for all the ways Rodgers has welcomed the public into his life, he has, in other instances, been just as protective of his privacy.

In a 2017 interview with ESPN, for example, Rodgers went into detail about organized religion and the ways in which he's questioned his own faith. He spoke about hot-button issues like politics, including issues that he believes should be non-partisan. (Climate change, human rights and civil liberties, he said.)

But when asked about his relationship with his family, Rodgers demurred.

"I think there should be a separation between your public life and your personal life," Rodgers told ESPN. "I've just always felt like there should be a time when you don't have to be on."

Like most professional athletes, Rodgers has opened up only at times and on subjects of his choosing. He's described himself as a history buff and voracious reader. A fan of Wes Anderson films. A trivia guru, hence the Jeopardy connection. In magazine takeouts and podcast interviews, he has come across as a Renaissance man of sorts.

In a different ESPN story, published last fall, some of his backups recalled having conversations with him about UFOs, the Egyptian pyramids and whether contrails of airplanes might be linked to cancer. The headline of the article refers to Rodgers' "inner weirdness."

"His thought process is a lot different than most people’s," former backup Seneca Wallace told USA TODAY Sports. "He’s going to march to the beat of his own drum."

Wallace spent just one year as Rodgers' backup and acknowledged that they do not have a particularly close relationship today. But he said Rodgers' comments on vaccines did not surprise him, even if they might have surprised members of the public.

"I think that just sums up Aaron and just his way of thinking," Wallace said. "I think when the NFL, the league is saying that every player needs to be vaccinated in order to play in the '21-'22 season, he’s just one of those individuals that is definitely going to argue the situation and make his statement on why he feels so opposed to (it)."

Rodgers described himself last week as not "some sort of anti-vax, flat-earther" but rather "a critical thinker" who is constantly questioning the world around him.

It's the same sentiment he expressed during his 2016 podcast appearance, albeit in a different time and a different context.

"For me, it’s all about a hope – a hope that what I see every day is not all that there is," he told Holmes. "And that’s kind of where I’ve gotten to the last four or five years. I just believe that there’s more going on than what we see, and there’s more going on than what we’re told, and there’s more going on than what we know."

Perhaps the same could be said of Rodgers himself. Over nearly two decades in the spotlight, he has both become one of the most popular stars in professional sports and elected to keep parts of his life private – leaving the public with only clues of who he really is.

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Who is Aaron Rodgers? COVID-19 saga reveals new side of Packers QB