The Hotel California has not always been kind to the Maple Leafs.
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers says he stands behind the comments he made last week about why he didn’t get vaccinated for COVID-19, but acknowledges misleading some people about his status before testing positive.
Rodgers spoke Tuesday on “The Pat McAfee Show” on YouTube and SiriusXM, four days after discussing on the same outlet his reasons for avoiding a vaccine. Rodgers tested positive Wednesday, was unavailable to play in the Packers’ 13-7 loss Sunday at Kansas City and remains quarantined in his Green Bay home.
“I shared an opinion that’s polarizing,” Rodgers said. “I get it. And I misled some people about my status, which I take full responsibility of, those comments. But in the end, I have to stay true to who I am and what I’m about. I stand behind the things that I said.”
When he was asked about his vaccination status in an Aug. 26 news conference, Rodgers replied by saying, “Yeah, I’m immunized.”
Rodgers had said Friday he sought alternative treatments rather than the NFL-endorsed vaccinations because he is allergic to an ingredient in the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. He didn’t specify the ingredient.
The three-time NFL MVP said he didn’t want the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after hearing of multiple people who’d had adverse reactions to it. Rodgers also said he was worried about potential fertility issues from getting one of these three vaccines, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and obstetrician groups recommend COVID-19 vaccines for pregnant individuals.
“I made some comments that people might have felt were misleading,” Rodgers said. “To anybody who felt misled by those comments, I take full responsibility for those comments.”
Rodgers didn’t specify the comments he was referencing to at the time. But about 20 minutes later, he acknowledged that he had misled some people about his vaccination status.
The COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. were tested in tens of thousands of people and proven to be both safe and effective at dramatically reducing the risk of serious disease and death. Serious side effects are extremely rare — and any risk is far lower than the risks posed by COVID-19.
Rodgers emphasized that he realizes the gravity of the pandemic and its impact. During his Friday appearance, he had talked about being “in the crosshairs of the woke mob” and wanting to tell his side of the story “before my final nail gets put in my cancel culture casket.”
“I understand that people are suffering,” Rodgers said. “This has been a really difficult time for the last two years on so many people. We all know individuals who’ve lost their lives personally, people who’ve lost their businesses, their livelihoods. Their way of life has been altered completely. And I empathize with those things. I also know how sports cam be such a connector and bring people together in times of adversity. I do realize that I am a role model to a lot of people.”
After Rodgers made his comments Friday, Wisconsin-based Prevea Health said it had ended its nine-year partnership with the veteran quarterback. Prevea Health’s announcement said it was a mutual parting.
State Farm issued a statement Monday saying it disagrees with some of Rodgers’ statements, but respects his right to have his own opinion, an indication it would keep its relationship with one of its biggest celebrity endorsers. State Farm’s statement says it encourages vaccinations but noted that Rodgers “has been a great ambassador for our company for much of the past decade.”
Rodgers said he doesn’t feel a need to address the commentary that has followed his remarks about why he didn’t get vaccinated.
“I’m an athlete,” Rodgers said. “I’m not an activist. I’m going to get back to doing what I do best, and that’s playing ball. I shared my opinion. It wasn’t one that was come to frivolously. It involved a lot of study and what I felt like was in my best interest for my body. Further comments, I’m going to keep to myself and my doctors.”
Rodgers, who turns 38 on Dec. 2, says he’s feeling better and that he believes there’s only a small possibility he wouldn’t be available for Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks. The earliest Rodgers could return to the team is Saturday.
“I’m feeling really good,” he said. “I’m definitely fortunate to have the type of care that I’ve been able to have. I know it’s special and it’s helped me get through this better. I also know it hasn’t been like that for everybody. I know this is a difficult time for so many people dealing with COVID. It’s been a tough two years for a lot of people. This has definitely been a time of reflection.”
The Hotel California has not always been kind to the Maple Leafs.
That’s changed on this trip, two lopsided wins and the chance for a rare sweep of the Golden State. The Leafs followed up a 6-2 win in Los Angeles with Friday’s 4-1 domination of the San Jose Sharks.
While rookie Joseph Woll finished strong with 30-plus saves for his third win to give Jack Campbell another rest, the other end of the ice belonged to the team’s top guns. William Nylander, Auston Matthews and John Tavares helped drive ex-Leaf James Reimer from the cage.
It was Toronto’s sixth straight road victory and eighth of the past nine allowing two goals or less. Most important for coach Sheldon Keefe, the team didn’t relax in the warm California sun. They weren’t given a day off since arriving from a win on Long Island.
“We made it very clear, it’s very much a business trip coming out here,” Keefe said before the game. “That’s not an easy thing to do, because it is a beautiful place to be and it’s a great time to enjoy that as you start to move on to the winter months. But our guys have been focused. We’ve had a enough time after practice to enjoy a few hours of sunlight.”
Another win Sunday in Anaheim, likely to be the toughest stop, would be their first 3-0 run here in four years with very few before that.
“Certainly the morale of this team right now is the best it has been all season,” said Keefe, who had his 77th win as Toronto coach to pass Paul Maurice for 14th place in team history. “We feel we had a really good camp and pre-season and felt really good about our group and had a few days together (in Gravenhurst, Ont.) where I thought there was a lot of growth inside our team. Then obviously the season didn’t start well, it took us some time to get rolling, get people comfortable in their roles.
“(But) we can’t get too focused on that. It’s a long season, a daily thing (to maintain). The confidence is there right now, but you need that every day. You hope to be 1-0 every day.”
With 15 wins in 22 games, the Leafs are still pressuring division leading Florida. The first five minutes and change produced three of night’s haul of goals. It took just 32 seconds for the Leafs, who survived a scramble around Woll and headed up-ice, Tavares with a nice pass to send Nylander in alone. After a long stretch without a goal, Nylander’s 111th tied him with Ace Bailey for 50th in team history.
A few moments after Nick Bonino took advantage of rookie Kirill Semyonov being caught out too long, Wayne Simmonds chipped a David Kampf shot past Reimer. It was his fourth point in five games, though trapped as the last man back on defence, he was beaten by ex-Leaf Alex Barabanov on a close call. Woll stopped that and then Jonah Gadjovich on a breakaway, but forced his mates to kill a second minor in the period when he came out to clear a puck that eluded Justin Holl, only to fire it over the glass.
Matthews missed on some good looks in the middle period, then directed blueline traffic for a point shot to give himself an easy rebound on the lip of the crease, making it 3-1. His eighth since Nov. 1 made him one of four NHLers with at least that many this month — Leon Draisaitl (15), Matt Duchene (10) and Alex Ovechkin (9).
While Toronto’s eighth-ranked penalty kill added three more to its total, the No. 1 power play unit stayed out for the duration and didn’t take its foot off the gas until Tavares knocked in a rebound with 20 seconds remaining, his team-high 10th and the 13th time in his career he’s reached double figures.
That was all for Reimer on 17 shots, marking the fifth time he’s not finished a start against his old club, one of those an injury on that crazy night when he and current Leaf Petr Mrazek were hurt and local Zamboni driver David Ayres filled in for a Carolina win. Adin Hill didn’t get much respite from Toronto’s breakaways, born of 11 takeaways through 40 minutes.
Kampf was back in the lineup after missing all but a shift of Wednesday’s win in L.A. with an upper body injury, though linemate Ondrej Kase was scratched for a rest, replaced by Semyonov. The latter was about the only Leaf not to shine, Keefe keeping him on the bench for a spell in the middle period after some rough spots.
The 27-year-old is in his second season with Ottawa after they flipped a second-round pick and prospect Jonathan Gruden to Pittsburgh to get him back at the 2020 draft. At the time, they felt they had their starting goalie of the foreseeable future, quickly inking him to a four-year, $25MM contract; his $6.25MM AAV is the sixth-highest in the league among goaltenders this season.
What have they received in return for that money? Not a whole lot. Murray struggled considerably last season, posting a 3.38 GAA with a .893 SV% in 27 games, the worst numbers of his career. This season, those numbers aren’t any better – a 3.26 GAA and a save percentage of .890 in six games. Those numbers are below average for a backup let alone a starter.
Ottawa’s decision to dress Anton Forsberg and Filip Gustavsson against the Ducks was a strong message from head coach D.J. Smith that he has lost faith in Murray. At this point, getting him down to Belleville for a stint to try to give him an opportunity to find his game again against lower-level competition certainly makes some sense.
Postmedia’s Bruce Garrioch suggests the Sabres and Coyotes could be teams to keep an eye on with regards to a potential claim. Both teams have a need for a goaltender but with two years still left on his contract and both teams operating as lower budget squads, it’s hard to imagine they’d be willing to take him off waivers with how poor he has performed in Ottawa. A trade with retention after he clears and maybe some games in the minors would be a likelier scenario.
Assuming he does indeed clear on Sunday, the Sens will get a small bit of cap relief as $1.125MM of Murray’s AAV will come off their books when he’s sent down. Of course, with Ottawa being a team that’s closer to the Lower Limit of the cap than the Upper Limit, that relief won’t be worth a whole lot to them but they’ll be able to move forward with a Forsberg-Gustavsson tandem for at least the time being while giving Murray an opportunity to get back to form in the minors.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman was the first to report that Murray would be waived.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The World Cup in Qatar is sure to be without either Italy or Cristiano Ronaldo.
Italy and Portugal, the current and previous European champions, were drawn into the same qualifying playoff bracket Friday, meaning at least one will fail to qualify for next year’s tournament.
Italy will first face North Macedonia at home in a playoff semifinal next March, and the winner will play away at either Portugal or Turkey for a spot at the World Cup.
Four-time champion Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, missing the tournament for the first time since 1958 after losing in the playoffs to Sweden. Now, after winning Euro 2020 in July, it may have to beat Euro 2016 champion Portugal to avoid a second straight failure.
“It’s not a great draw and it could have gone better,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini acknowledged. “Just like we wanted to avoid Portugal, they would have wanted to avoid Italy.”
Ronaldo has led Portugal to every World Cup since 2006 and this could be his last attempt at winning international soccer’s biggest trophy. He will turn 37 before next year’s tournament starts.
Ronaldo helped Portugal get through the playoffs for the 2014 World Cup, scoring a hat trick in a 3-2 win over Sweden that featured an epic duel between superstars, with Zlatan Ibrahimović netting twice for the Swedes.
“It’s not worth thinking about (Italy),” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said. “It’s important that we concentrate on beating Turkey.”
Also in the 12-team draw, Scotland will face Ukraine at home, and the winner will play at Wales or Austria in the final of their bracket.
Russia will host Poland for the right to face Sweden or the Czech Republic in their bracket final. Russia or Poland will host the final.
Scotland looks to end a 24-year wait to play at the World Cup while Wales’ only appearance was in 1958.
“At the moment, the way the team is playing, the confidence the boys have got, we would be happy to play anyone, anywhere,” said Scotland coach Steve Clarke, whose team has won six straight since September.
However, Ukraine won at Hampden Park in June, in the Euro 2020 round of 16 against Sweden, and went unbeaten through a World Cup qualifying group won by France.
Sweden will not have Ibrahimović for its semifinal against the Czechs. The 40-year-old forward has a one-game ban for getting yellow cards in the qualifying group.
“We already did it last time (in 2018) and we of course (know) that we can do it again,” said Sweden coach Janne Andersson.
The six playoff semifinals will be played as single-leg games March 24. The three finals are played five days later.
The three winners will complete Europe’s entry of 13 nations in the 32-team lineup in Qatar.
FIFA will make the tournament draw on April 1 in Doha.
The European playoffs feature the 10 teams who finished second in their qualifying groups along with two teams — Austria and the Czechs — who won Nations League groups last year.
Also, FIFA said Qatar will host the intercontinental playoff in June that will decide the last two qualifiers for the tournament.
The intercontinental draw paired the team from Asia against the team from South America, and a team from North American region CONCACAF against Oceania’s representative.
Those qualifying campaigns are still being played.
The winners of the two single-leg games on June 13-14 will complete the 32-team World Cup lineup.
The intercontinental playoff was originally scheduled for March 2022 as two-leg, home and away series. The games were pushed back as the global qualifying program stalled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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