Jemele Hill Explains Why Antonio Brown's Vaccination Scandal Is Worse Than Aaron Rodgers'

PEOPLE Every Day host Janine Rubenstein spoke with the sports journalist about the differences between the two NFL players who provided misinformation about their vaccination statuses

The NFL has gotten a lot of attention for some of its players' public approach to Covid-19 vaccinations, and the differing consequences players including Antonio Brown and Aaron Rodgers have faced after misrepresenting their status to the league.

According to sports journalist Jemele Hill, the responses to these scandals have been justified and that semantics explain why Brown received a harsher sentence.

PEOPLE Every Day host Janine Rubenstein spoke with the Jemele Hill Is Unbothered podcast host and The Atlantic contributing editor about the vaccine scandals that have plagued professional sports in recent months.

Earlier this month the NFL announced that Brown, the receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was handed a three-game suspension from the NFL for allegedly misrepresenting his COVID vaccination status.

In November, a spokesperson for the Buccaneers told PEOPLE that they were investigating a report in the Tampa Bay Times that cited Brown's former live-in chef as saying Brown had allegedly purchased a fake vaccination card. Brown's lawyer previously maintained that the Tampa Bay star is fully vaccinated.

Antonio Brown, Aaron Rodgers
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Meanwhile, Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 in early November after previously stating that he had been "immunized" in August ahead of the season; however, just two days later, he revealed that he did not get vaccinated, claiming that he was allergic to an ingredient in the mRNA (Pfizer and Moderna) vaccines. After completing a mandatory 10-day quarantine required by the NFL and getting cleared by medical personnel, the quarterback returned to Lambeau Field on Nov. 14 for the team's game against the Seattle Seahawks.

Hill explains that professional sport leagues are not imposing mandates, just establishing rules for both vaccinated and vaccinated athletes.

"You could still play, you could still earn your money, but if you're not vaccinated you're going to have to follow a different set of rules because of the contagion rate is different for unvaccinated people, and the danger that they can create both for themselves and others is different," Hill says. "The leagues responsibly have done that."

Jemele Hill
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Hill points out that what separates these two cases is how much of the truth they each told, and to whom.

"Aaron Rodgers did not lie to the NFL and he did not lie to the Packers; they knew he was unvaccinated. He did lie to the media," she adds, calling what he did "shameful" for misleading the public with fancy wordplay in an effort to avoid criticism.

"What was even more wrong about that was that ... at press conferences as a unvaccinated player, he's either supposed to wear a mask or be on Zoom, and he did neither, which is why he got fined," Hill says, adding that the public might think, "If you see him publicly not doing it, then why should I believe he's doing this privately?"

In Brown's case, however, he didn't just mislead the public, he "straight-up lied to everybody," Hill says. "He's endangering his teammates, he's endangering everybody around him. If he creates a COVID outbreak on that team, a team that is the reigning Super Bowl champion trying to defend their title again, that's a completely different scenario."

While he did receive the three-game suspension, Hill feels the punishment was too light based on the level of deception in his reported actions.

"To try to pass off a fake vaccination card, it's a crime," she notes. "He's committing a crime and he's lying and he's endangering people, and I think that's far more serious than what Aaron Rodgers did."

kyrie irving
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On the other end of the spectrum, NBA player Kyrie Irving refused to get vaccinated and was told he will not participate in practices or games until he does. Regardless of the NBA's policies, the Brooklyn Nets star is still facing a state mandate that would not allow him to play without being vaccinated. "The Brooklyn Nets decided that they didn't want to have a situation where he can only play in half the games," Hill says. "So that was understandable."

"The one thing I appreciate about Kyrie, especially seeing how this Antonio Brown and Aaron Rodgers situation played out, is he was truthful," she adds, mentioning how he took the criticism and accepted his decision not to play. "If you're not vaccinated and people have rules and mandates, you do still have a choice. You may not like the consequences, but you do have a choice, and he took his consequences."

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