March 17, 2024 - 5:00pm

In recent statements, third-party presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has hinted at selecting 40-year-old NFL superstar Aaron Rodgers as his vice-presidential pick. Kennedy, in his advocacy for Rodgers, has emphasised attributes that he believes resonate deeply with the American spirit of independence and critical thought — the pair are united by their opposition to mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations, among other things.

Rodgers’s potential candidacy under the Kennedy banner represents a unique intersection of sports, entertainment, and politics, reminiscent of the cultural shift observed with Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency. It poses an intriguing scenario where Rodgers’s immense platform as an NFL quarterback could transform the 2024 election into a spectacle of unprecedented proportions, especially if he simultaneously plays the entire season while campaigning.

Kennedy lauded Rodgers, a former Super Bowl champion and four-time league MVP, for being “battle-tested” and highlighted the footballer’s ability to question authority, whether it be the Covid consensus or other commonly-accepted narratives. Past political statements by Rodgers have indicated that he dislikes most attempts by the Government to limit access to everything from recreational drugs and alcohol to abortion, while also opposing any efforts to mandate certain procedures, whether it be vaccination or euthanasia.

The selection of Rodgers over other more shopworn contrarian personalities — such as Tulsi Gabbard, Rand Paul and Andrew Yang — would signal a strategic move by Kennedy to appeal to a broader, potentially younger demographic. The NFL player’s emphasis on personal freedoms, especially in the context of health and bodily autonomy, could draw voters sceptical of mainstream medical advice and Government intervention — and there are a lot of them, with past polls showing a significant portion of the country opposing Covid-19 vaccinations and anywhere from 30-40% against even routine vaccinations required for school attendance. On the flip side, Rodgers’s scepticism on issues such as vaccines and his alleged comments on conspiracy theories could alienate a significant chunk of the electorate too.

Rodgers’s lack of political experience and the novelty of his candidacy could be strategically beneficial in key states dominated by neither Democrats nor Republicans, allowing the campaign to tap into a vein of reluctant or indifferent Americans seeking figures outside the traditional political establishment who will represent their views. This approach has seen success in the US in the past, as evidenced by the election of other outsiders to high office, as when pro wrestler Jesse Ventura became Governor of Minnesota in 1998 after boosting voter participation from this same demographic of dissatisfied independent voters looking to send a message to “career politicians”.

Whether viewed as a strategic masterstroke or a daring gamble, a Rodgers-Kennedy partnership will surely further complicate an election that in other respects looks like a replay of 2020. Given that polling consistently reveals American dissatisfaction with the two mainstream candidates, a Hail Mary lobbed from one of the NFL’s all-time greatest players to a scion of one of America’s most famous political dynasties could go a long way toward shaking up a boring, predictable game.

Oliver Bateman is a historian and journalist based in Pittsburgh. He blogs, vlogs, and podcasts at his Substack, Oliver Bateman Does the Work