Sports are a strangely transformative human event. They change people — the people who play them, the people who watch them. The pandemic changed sports and maybe the athletes, maybe Aaron Rodgers. Looking for unorthodoxy, he discovered villainy and embraced it, perhaps in a scheme to get traded, damning being adored in pursuit of a self that seemed true. People were baffled by that, too. In professional wrestling, they call this sort of manufactured misbehavior a heel turn. Done wrong, it’s baffling.
For now, the heel in him appears to have mellowed. So what classification will make sense for Rodgers’ time here as a Person of Interest? A second chance, a redo, a doubling down, a clean slate? Revenge? Rodgers has yet to throw a single touchdown pass for the city. The season could be glorious — or the sort of debacle that turns a simple jaunt like the one he took “with” me the other day into a trial. Maybe the professional relationship doesn’t last more than a year. But maybe the residential one lasts, thrives. Rodgers turns 40 at the end of the regular season. I’m not an athlete, let alone an elite one. I am, however, a New Yorker, who turned 40 here, and I know how it feels to let some of the past go, to actually, finally have a home here — here in New York Freakin’ City. Whether you’re broke or flush, it’s a relief, a great fortune, possibly the seed of some social and emotional gluttony. “If this town is just an apple,” Michael Jackson once sang, “Then let me take a bite.”
Maybe he’ll come to love about this place what lots of us do, that despite the evident suffering, inequality and mismanagement, New York remains a town where you can experience a lacerating, queer farce about Black existentialism like “Ain’t No Mo’” and an artist as self-astute and paradigmatically white as Taylor Swift and teams with fates as addled and fanbases as inflamed as the Rangers and Knicks (and the Jets and the Mets), where people on the street will give you your space until, of course, they won’t.
I caught Rodgers at the Tonys and swore I recognized a guy discovering what it’s like to be himself but somewhere else, to experience what he’s seen on TV and in the movies, what he’s read in books. It’s been a dream for some of us to live here, in “the greatest city in the world,” to quote the musical about the history undergirding such dreams. I’m sure I’m being naïve. But that’s sports, which really isn’t so different from art. It works best when you suspend disbelief.