Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Kinesiology and Sport Studies
Lars Dzikus, Erin Whiteside, Leia Cain
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought suffering throughout society and disruption throughout the sports world. In the U.S., there have been politically polarized debates about the best course of action for handling the pandemic, including vaccinations and the appropriateness of other restrictive measures. Amidst the 2021 National Football League (NFL) season, in which the league imposed differing levels of restrictions based on a player’s vaccination status, former MVP and Super Bowl champion Aaron Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19. After his positive test, Rodgers, who had previously claimed he was “immunized” from COVID-19, revealed that his immunization protocol consisted of “alternate” drugs (e.g., ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine) rather than an FDA-approved vaccine. In defense of his decision to “march to the beat of [his] own drum,” Rodgers cast himself as a victim of the “woke mob” and “cancel culture” (McAfee, 2021a).
To understand how Aaron Rodgers, a representative of white masculinity, was constructed in mediated coverage, I used critical discourse analysis, examining 302 articles from the most-visited mainstream and sport media websites. The theoretical guides for the study included critical white studies (Akom, 2008; Delgado & Stefancic, 1997; Nayak, 2007) and gender performativity theories (Anderson, 2008; Butler, 1990).
Five prominent themes were identified: Dishonesty and Irresponsibility, White Orthodox Sensibilities, White Victimization, Scientific Evidence, and Protection of White Male Hegemony. My themes argue that Rodgers was criticized heavily by most media outlets for his alternative vaccination comments through performing his masculinity in unapproved ways that did not match the norms of the “sport ethic” (Hughes & Coakley, 1991), components of “warrior” masculinity, and a communal version of masculinity. However, some discourses of orthodox masculine notions, such as heterosexuality, toughness, and confidence, were emphasized. Rodgers chose to position himself as a victim, which matches some common conservative ideological strategies in U.S. discourse (Banet-Weiser, 2021; Kusz, 2019). Such insight is useful to understand backlash politics that position white men as victims of social progress by marginalized groups. As the ways in which public figures use victimization rhetoric shifts, researchers should continue to focus on the ways in which power is (re)produced in mediated discourse.
Crowe, Patrick, ""I march to the beat of my own drum": A critical discourse analysis on mediated construction of Aaron Rodgers' COVID-19 vaccination disclosure. " PhD diss., University of Tennessee, 2023.