Like Pete Rose, Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong, Aaron Rodgers trashes his legacy

As shocking as it is to see one of the greatest players of his generation, one of the greatest quarterbacks the game has ever seen, become the subject of late-night punchlines, it’s even more sad.

The epitaph of Aaron Rodgers’ career will no longer be limited to his one Super Bowl title, four NFL MVP awards and countless superlative stats. It will also have to include his descent into conspiracy theories and misinformation, and a baseless attack on Jimmy Kimmel he tried — badly — to excuse as a misunderstanding.

It wasn’t the “woke establishment” that did this. “The mainstream media” isn’t to blame. This is all Rodgers’ own doing, with help from some of his “friends” on The Pat McAfee Show, and he won’t be able to outrun it no matter how many more seasons he plays.

“This is the game plan of the media. This is what they do. They try and cancel — and it’s not just me. It’s nowhere near just me,” Rodgers said Tuesday as he tried, unsuccessfully, to extricate himself from the hole he dug by suggesting Kimmel was a pedophile who would be linked to Jeffrey Epstein.

“This is their game plan,” he continued. “They use these words to cancel people and they went and ran with this because it’s the crazy, anti-vaxxer whacko again talking about, accusing somebody of being a pedophile? Of course. This is the game plan they use. Incorrect, but that’s the environment that we’re in.”

No, this is the environment Rodgers created.

More: Aaron Rodgers doesn't apologize for Jimmy Kimmel comments, blasts ESPN on 'The Pat McAfee Show'

Star athletes, like all of us, are the sum of all their parts, good and bad. But society is usually willing to give our heroes a pass on their flaws and mistakes — until those shortcomings overshadow that which makes them great.

Pete Rose can never separate himself from his gambling on baseball. Barry Bonds’ records are forever tainted by the question of how much performance-enhancing drugs contributed to them. Lance Armstrong was undone by both his cheating and his scorched earth campaign to keep it hidden.

Rodgers now joins their ranks, someone whose failings are as noteworthy as his triumphs.

He’s become the kooky, cringey relative at family holidays, demanding to be taken seriously as a deep thinker “challenging the establishment” when what he’s parroting is both nonsensical and easily debunked. It’s a far cry from the days when Rodgers acted as something of a conscience for the league, offering thoughtful and measured responses to thorny issues that went even beyond football.

Had Rodgers simply not gotten vaccinated, even been caught lying about it, it would have been a blip on his glittering résumé. A footnote at the bottom of stories about him. But he has made his fight for truth the central theme of his narrative, and you can no longer separate Rodgers the star quarterback from Rodgers the quack. Especially when his misinformation, his snide remarks about those he disagrees with or those who call him on his BS go from being simply unfunny to dangerous.

More: Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel absolutely obliterates Aaron Rodgers in new monologue

“When you hear a guy who won a Super Bowl and did all the State Farm commercials say something like this, a lot of people believe it," Kimmel said Monday night in a devastating response to Rodgers. "A lot of delusional people honestly believe I am meeting up with Tom Hanks and Oprah at Shakey's once a week to eat pizza and drink the blood of children.

"And I know this because I hear from these people often, my wife hears from them. My kids hear from them. My poor mailman hears from these people. And now we’re hearing from lots more of them thanks to Aaron Rodgers.”

Rodgers tried to say Tuesday that he wasn’t suggesting Kimmel’s name would be on a list of people associated with Epstein, who trafficked young women to the rich and famous. But his explanation — that he only wants corruption and corrupt people exposed — was as bogus as his repeated claim that India and Japan successfully used ivermectin to treat COVID. Anyone who heard Rodgers last week, and saw the smug look on his face, knew he thought he was delivering a savage takedown of Kimmel.

But the only person Rodgers is taking down is himself.

Rodgers is intelligent, and his curiosity about the world outside of football used to be one of his most admirable qualities. But he somehow got lost in a vortex of misinformation and mistruths, and can no longer see what everyone else does.

Rodgers is a terrific quarterback and an utter fool, and it’s impossible to separate one from the other.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on social media @nrarmour.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Aaron Rodgers' once-sterling NFL legacy tarnished, and he's to blame