Inside Aaron Rodgers' "Complicated'' Relationship With His Family
Jordan Rodgers may be "nobody's brother" in wife JoJo Fletcher's eyes. But to the rest of the world...
Yeah, they want to know what the deal is with Jordan's superstar older sibling Aaron Rodgers.
In addition to falling in love with his future bride on the 12th season of The Bachelorette, which aired in 2016, Jordan made headlines when he revealed that he and the Super Bowl winner were estranged. And soon it was apparent that there was something amiss within the whole Rodgers family.
"It's something we don't really like to talk about a lot," eldest brother Luke Rodgers explained on the show when JoJo visited their hometown of Chico, Calif., the two ominously empty chairs at the dining table—for Aaron and then-girlfriend Olivia Munn—not going unnoticed. "It pains both of us not to have that relationship. We miss our brother. We just are trusting that God brings things full circle. And just wish that everything would just get back to us being a family."
Stars Whose Siblings Were on Reality TV
Fast-forward to Aaron being conspicuously absent from Luke's photos taken at JoJo and Jordan's May 2022 nuptials, as well as from every major family milestone, vacation and Green Bay Packers game in between, and it's pretty clear that day hasn't come yet.
But maybe...it's in the works?
"Many people have issues with family and deal with them in their own ways," Aaron, who had one of the more tumultuous 2021-22 seasons among NFL players, at least off the field, said on the Aug. 3 episode of the Aubrey Marcus Podcast. "For me, I've always tried to deal with it quietly behind closed doors. That hasn't always been the case or hasn't been good enough for a lot of people who want to write about it, or pick it apart, or talk about it, or even some things that my family has said or done over the years that's been public."
Jordan, who also played in the NFL for a few years, took some heat for sharing that bit of family business back in 2016. Naturally he was accused of bringing Aaron up to create drama for The Bachelorette and trade on his famous last name—but he defended how it played out on camera.
"Family things are always tough, and they're always tough to address, let alone on a TV show," Jordan told E! News in August 2016. "But I knew I made a commitment to go on there and be honest with JoJo and make sure that she knew everything because we didn't have any time off-camera and we were going to get to a proposal. So you have to be honest, you have to trust she believes in the person you are."
But while family issues among contestants on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are par for the course, Aaron being an NFL star who escorted his actress girlfriend to the Oscars that year while still being a bit of a sports world cipher made for a perfect storm of fascination.
And then his dad, Ed Rodgers, confirmed to The New York Times in an eye-opening Jan. 15, 2017, story that he and his wife, Darla, hadn't talked to Aaron for two years.
"One in the news is enough for us," Ed, a former college football player turned chiropractor, told the paper, referring to all of a sudden having two sons in the spotlight. "Fame can change things."
But Aaron had been famous for a really long time.
Ten years before the phone stopped ringing, Rodgers was the star quarterback who had revived Cal's football program from the dead, leading the Golden Bears to a 10-1 record in 2004, and was inevitably bound for the NFL.
NFL Studs On and Off the Football Field
Darla told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2004 that a fan had asked for her autograph during a home game in Berkeley, and Ed said people were always popping into his office to talk football. They recalled a precocious 5-year-old Rodgers organizing football games at recess.
"That's why when he goes into the draft, it will be a dream come true for him," said brother Luke, who was also an athlete and NFL analyst and now co-hosts the sci-fi-themed podcast Blurry Creatures. "I don't think it's set in yet. But in his mind, he's always thought it would happen. It wasn't so much a dream as it was his plan."
Luke and Aaron, 19 months apart and both whizzes at football and basketball, would compete as brothers do, but sometimes their at-home football drills, presided over by Ed, would get so heated they had to call it a night.
"We always played a game called Pass Pattern," Ed told Chico's News Review in 2004. "One would be the receiver, I'd be the quarterback, the other would be the DB, and they'd try to guard each other. It got real competitive."
Aaron wasn't recruited by UC Berkeley, or by any other Division I programs, out of high school—his dad questioned his high school's lack of proper promotion of the QB's talents and cited an unfortunate lack of scouting interest in athletes from that area of the state. But after one year at Butte College, a community college with a powerhouse football program in its division, Cal offered him a scholarship and the rest is yard-gobbling history.
"Christmastime at my house—holiday times—you watched bowl games," Aaron told the News Review, recalling Cal's win in the 2003 Insight Bowl. "I watched every bowl game when I was growing up. It was amazing that I was playing in a bowl game—something I'd always dreamed about doing."
"We feel really blessed," Ed Rodgers told the paper, his unstoppable son having become Cal football's savior. "I can't talk about his road without really talking about our faith as a family...That's an important part. I try not to leave it out."
"We're a very strong Christian family," Aaron agreed. "I know they're always praying for me, so it's encouraging." He added, "If something goes wrong with football, I have a great family to fall back on. I have a great city that's supported me, which has been unbelievable. I have great friends who care about me regardless if we win or lose or how good I play."
Aaron continued, "Me and my brother [Luke] used to always talk about, 'We're going to be NBA stars, we're going to be NFL stars.' That was always a dream of ours, and Mom and Dad never shot it down."
Ed said he and Darla would watch Jordan play his high school games on Friday nights and watch Aaron do his thing on Saturdays—and they attended all of Cal's home games that year.
See Photos From Bachelor Nation's JoJo Fletcher and Jordan Rodgers' Honeymoon
After Cal was passed over for the Rose Bowl despite their 10-1 season and instead the Bears lost in the Holiday Bowl, Aaron opted to skip his senior year and declare for the 2005 NFL Draft—where he was once again underrated and ultimately picked 24th by the Packers.
"He's seen our family go from zero to comfortable, so I think he can appreciate that the money's not always there," Luke told the Chronicle before Aaron announced his decision to turn pro. "He knows what that feels like. To have the money and security, how could you not want that?"
"He puts so much thought into everything that I have a lot of confidence in his decision," Ed said. "I know it won't be based on chance. He's not shallow, he's definitely a deep thinker."
And though Green Bay, Wis., is quite a ways from Chico, the Rodgers family seemingly remained as supportive as could be.
Ed, Darla, Luke, Jordan and the brothers' maternal grandparents, Barbara and Chuck Pittman, were all in Arlington, Texas, when the Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers to win Super Bowl XLV in 2011, three years after Rodgers had taken the team reins from veteran quarterback Brett Favre. Rodgers threw for 304 yards for three touchdowns with no interceptions and was named Super Bowl MVP.
Interviewing Ed before the big game, a writer for Dallas News' Sports Day noted that there was no evidence in his chiropractic office of who his son was.
"Just my way, I guess," Ed said. "I don't go strutting my stuff. People here kind of know me and what's happening." That being said, he couldn't have sounded prouder.
"I knew Aaron had a special gift," Ed also told The New York Times before the game, "but you never think your kid is going to wind up in the Super Bowl."
The elder Rodgers also told a story about a friend of his who complimented Aaron on his game. "Aaron was like, 'Yeah, but you should see my brother. He's better.' The gentleman turned to me and said, 'You know, that response is really rare.'" Ed added, "Aaron has always had this interesting combination of being really humble and extremely confident."
Luke was described as Aaron's best friend in a Madison.com story from November 2011, which reported on how the two became especially close when they lived in a smaller house back when their dad switched careers and wasn't earning much money while in chiropractic school.
"Let me tell you about being protective, I had to check myself so many times," Luke said when recalling his reaction to any criticism of Aaron's football skills. "I'm his older brother and I want to protect him. People say things to my face, it's so crazy. My first instinct is to want to pound somebody...I had to learn that's kind of what happens, you have to have thick skin. But that doesn't go away, either. It still fires me up. Hearing people talk about your family members in ways that are less than cordial."
Luke added, "At some point we're all going to be done playing and have quasi-normal lives...And I'm going to have my brothers forever. That's really the reality of it."
In the summer of 2013, Ed and Darla volunteered at an event in Sheboygan benefiting Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, but not before visiting their son on the first day of training camp in Green Bay.
"We all know of Rodgers, and we're all fans of his and that he's really a down to earth human being," one of the event's organizers, Tom Benning, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at the time. "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree."
The paper printed a photo of Ed and Aaron sharing a hearty handshake. "It's amazing that they came all the way out here from California, but I don't think they were planning on coming to training camp," Benning said. "They're here for the kids."
All of the Contenders Who Were in the Running to Become Jeopardy!'s New Host
Even though Aaron's inner life was being extensively probed at the time by reporters who wanted to know what made the upstart quarterback tick, both leading up to and after his Super Bowl victory, you'd be hard-pressed to get too much out of him.
To unwind he played guitar, he watched Jeopardy!, he golfed. But otherwise, all football, all the time.
"I spend a lot of time each week, just making sure I'm ready to play the game," he told The New York Times in 2011. "I want my teammates to know I'm the most prepared guy on the field."
Though he was briefly linked to Jessica Szohr in 2011, his personal life was a relative mystery until he started dating Olivia Munn in 2014. Their coupling eventually became the convenient answer to the question of "What changed?!" between Aaron and the rest of his family a few years later.
When asked in May 2016 about Jordan going on The Bachelorette, Olivia was at a bit of a loss.
"Aaron doesn't really...I don't think he's really talked with his brother," the Newsroom star told Entertainment Tonight. "So, I actually don't know. It's complicated—I'll say that."
Ed Rodgers didn't cast aspersions at Aaron's girlfriend in the New York Times article, but he didn't dispute the accuracy of the November 2016 Bleacher Report story that first revealed he and Darla hadn't spoken to their middle son since December 2014, a few months after his relationship with Olivia began.
Sources also told the outlet that that the Christmas presents Aaron's parents sent him and Olivia that year were returned the following February, that family members had been informed they weren't welcome in Green Bay, and that Aaron didn't attend his grandfather Chuck's funeral in May 2016.
On The Bachelorette, Jordan told JoJo, "I miss my brother a lot, especially in moments like this because my family means so much." After meeting the Rodgers clan, JoJo said, "I have no idea nor could I even imagine why Aaron wouldn't want to be part of their lives."
Asked by the Times if relations had thawed at all from the icy state of affairs described by Bleacher Report, Ed said, "It's hard to tell sometimes."
"Airing public laundry is not what I would have chosen," he continued. But, "It's good to have it all come out."
"It's complicated," Ed added. "We're all hoping for the best."
When his family matters were broached by reporters at the Packers' practice facility days later, Rodgers said, "I just don't think it's appropriate talking about family stuff publicly." Asked if Jordan would be coming to Sunday's playoff game, he said, "I don't know. I really don't."
In hindsight, it's still not entirely clear whose fame Ed was referring to that could have changed things so much.
Olivia and Aaron split up in April 2017, a source telling E! News that she initiated the break. Aaron told ESPN The Magazine a few months later, "When you are living out a relationship in the public eye, it's definitely...it's difficult. It has some extra constraints, because you have other opinions about your relationship, how it affects your work and, you know, just some inappropriate connections."
And there was no big grand family reunion afterward.
Olivia said on Andy Cohen Live in May 2018 that things were what they were when she first got together with Aaron.
"He hadn't spoken to the parents and one brother for, like, eight months before we started dating," she shared. In fact, the actress continued, she encouraged Aaron to reach out to his parents.
"They had a nice conversation and then they started coming out my first year when I was in Green Bay in 2014," Olivia said, also describing herself as "friendly" with Jordan.
"I just think it's really important to try to mend things in a family and I encouraged that," she said. "But at the end of the day, I mean..." "It was out of your control," Andy offered.
Romance Rewind: Aaron Rodgers and Shailene Woodley
Needless to say, Aaron spent 2021 shocking and awing in other ways—guest-hosting Jeopardy!, getting engaged to Shailene Woodley, sparking controversy and a summer-long waiting game after implying he wasn't happy in Green Bay, claiming he was "immunized" against COVID-19 and then making a big deal about other people making a big deal about him being unvaccinated.
All while playing well enough to be named league MVP for a second straight year. And though it didn't work out with Shailene in the long run, in March Aaron signed a reported $200 million deal to remain with the Packers for four more seasons.
Moreover, he said while being uncharacteristically effusive about the elephant in the room on the Aubrey Marcus Podcast, there had "definitely been a perspective shift over the years" when it came to his family.
"It starts with gratitude," the 38-year-old explained. "Living a life where you count your blessings more than you think about what you don't have. The gratitude extends way back to the environment I was raised in, the morals I was taught as a young child, the conditioning that we all have and the positives that came from it, and the lessons I learned through it, the patterns I created that are positive and also negative that I need to unwind. We all have these things."
Every family had its challenges, Aaron said, but after everything, he appreciated where he came from and the sacrifices his dad made to give them a better life.
"I do believe in healing," the four-time NFL MVP continued, "and I believe in the possibility of reconciliation at some point, but it's a different journey for all of us. And to judge on the outside about what should be, or what it should look like, or who's wrong and who's right, it's just a game I've never wanted to play and still don't want to play."
He wasn't sure how or when they might be able to come together, "but I have no bitterness in my heart, I have no resentment," Aaron said. "I just have deep love and appreciation for the lessons that I learned and the fact that if I hadn't been raised that way, all the good and all the frustrating, there's no way I'd be sitting here today."
Perhaps it means that one of these days, there won't be any empty chairs at the Rodgers family table.
(Originally published Jan. 17, 2017, at 2:37 p.m. PT)