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Speaking Up

Admiring Aaron Rodgers

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I’m not much of a hero-worshiper, but there are people I admire. I like the songstress Joni Mitchell, whose lyrics are deep and simple. The best essay I’ve ever read about writing was by Raymond Carver, who picked tulips to make ends meet before his wrenching short stories made him famous. Miss Stock, my grade school gym teacher, was kind and patient. She called us boys and girls and taught us how to play softball and climb a rope.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much I like Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, which, by the way, is owned by the good people of Wisconsin, making it the only nonprofit, community-owned sports franchise in the country.

But that’s not why I like Rodgers. I like Rodgers because of the four resplendent words he uttered on 60 Minutes when a cocky guy getting a photo op told him he was short. The 225-pound NFL champion could have shot back with “let’s take it outside’’ or, “zip it, pal’’ or “bug off.’’ But he didn’t. He looked the man in the eye and calmly responded, “I don’t appreciate that.’’

The bell tolled. Finally, I thought, the words I’ve been looking for my entire life to tell someone that they are behaving badly. There are usually two ways to go when someone says or does something that is clearly inappropriate. You can go the Alec Baldwin route and lose it, or you can say hello to an ulcer by keeping quiet and scurrying off.

One of the top quarterbacks in the NFL today has proved to me that I can scrap those two options and go for a response that is clear and direct and gets the point across to the offender so well he shuts the door on his way out. There’s no slam; just a sheepish click. How Rodgers came up with that retort is anybody’s guess, but I bet that some of the experiences he had in his early years had something to do with it.

According to the 60 Minutes profile by reporter Scott Pelley, Rodgers was born in Chico, California, the son of a chiropractor. As a high school quarterback, he earned a slew of record-setting stats. Still, few Division 1 college teams were interested, and Rogers suspected it had something to do with his height, which, at the time, was 5 feet 10 inches.

In the report, Pelley asked Rodgers why he keeps his football scholarship rejection letters, including the one from Purdue that would rankle even the most placid person: “Good luck with your attempt at a college football career.’’ Needless to say, young and hopeful Rodgers received no offers from D-1, D-2 or D-3 football programs.

Rodgers thought about quitting football, until he met the head coach of Butte College, a junior college near his home. The coach believed in him, assuring him he had the potential to be a great player. Rodgers signed up. The coach had good instincts, or maybe a good heart. UC Berkeley noticed Rodgers throwing Butte’s passes and recruited him. He set records at UC Berkeley, and in 2005 went to the NFL draft, where he was expected to be a top pick. Again, he encountered disappointment. He was 24th pick for the Packers.

Rodgers could have gone down pity road, but didn’t. Instead, he worked overtime. Now he has the highest passer rating in NFL history and the lowest interception percentage. Oh, he also won the Super Bowl in 2010, as well as the MVP award. Not bad for a guy who wasn’t supposed to be somebody.

The idiotic comment Rodgers didn’t appreciate came on the heels of those accomplishments at a special event with select fans in Milwaukee. Rodgers was standing at a podium with some, well, creep disguised as a man. The TV cameras were rolling.

Man: “You look a little bit smaller than I thought you’d be.’’

Rodgers: “I don’t appreciate that.’’

Rodgers is 6 feet 2 inches now, so the man’s comment was ridiculous. But that’s not my point. I just like the way Rodgers handled himself. He essentially told the man he was a jerk without calling him a jerk. That’s a very hard thing to do. After the program, I was in a good mood the rest of the night. I knew I had found the perfect words to express myself when the world goes wrong. I told my sons how Rodgers beat the odds, never gave up and articulated a magical phrase that they should incorporate into their lexicon.

Bully: “You stink at curling.’’

Son: “I don’t appreciate that.’’

I thought about all the times I could have used that “Rodgerism” in my life. To Tom, who dumped me in high school for the fetching blonde: “I don’t appreciate that.’’ To the editor who barked when I missed a deadline: “I don’t appreciate that.’’ To the guy who keeps his flood light on all night: “I don’t appreciate that.’’

Now any time I start to get cranky, I go into The Rodgers Zone. Packers’ wide receiver Greg Jennings told 60 Minutes that in the huddle Rodgers is collected and calm. He is not red-faced, spewing expletives.

I remind myself of this daily as I look across the street to a new townhouse being crammed into a backyard once filled with luscious pines. The townhouse looks silly; sorry, it just does. I’d like to give the developer an earful, but I’m not sure Rodgers would approve. I think I’ll just catch the developer one evening on his way out. I’ll point to the behemoth and throw a rocket: “I don’t appreciate that.’’

Elizabeth Rau can be reached at erau1@verizon.net.