Aaron Rodgers undergoes darkness retreat to decide NFL future

By Ethan Montague

From refusing to follow the NFL Covid-19 vaccine mandate to trying a South American hallucinogenic drug called Ayahuasca, Aaron Rodgers is no stranger to doing things his way.

On Feb. 7th, when Rodgers first announced he would be doing a four day darkness retreat to mull his NFL options for 2023, NFL reporter and insider Ian Rapoport summed up his thoughts, with just six words.

“That sounds… I have no idea,” said Rapoport.

Rodgers is currently pondering whether to retire, return to the Green Bay Packers, or be traded to a new team. While on the retreat, Rodgers was alone with his thoughts in a dark room, receiving vegan or vegetarian food through a hatch to keep the room completely dark. Rodgers had no electronics and was in total isolation. 

Vegan or vegetarian food is dropped in through a hatch. The door is locked from the inside, so the patient can leave at any time. 

Although unusual, darkness retreats have been studied and researched by medical professionals. 

Dr. Harold Shinitzky is a sports psychologist who works in Clearwater and St. Petersburg, Fl. Shinitzky has worked with athletes in the Olympics as well as professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, MLB and most other major American sports leagues. 

Shinitzky said there are benefits to darkness treatments, but said that people who try them should have experience with meditation. The treatment is about self reflection without distraction.

“Those who make it through the process often become enlightened. You don’t need externals,” Shinitzky continued. “You can find contentment, happiness, fulfillment within. Traditional distractions don’t truly matter.”

Shinitzky also made comparisons between the dream state and the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, “Inception,” where characters travel through dreams. 

According to Shinitzky and other medical professionals, the body goes into a meditative or recovery state causing the individual to lose track of time, space and to even produce a sort of hallucinogenic effect due to chemicals being released in the brain. The chemicals released are more natural versions of recreational drugs like DMT or Rodger’s personal favorite Ayahuasca, which both also create a hallucinogenic effect. The effect is similar to the darkness retreat but less natural.

This all results in dreams feeling intensely real, even more real than the time they spend awake in the room according to Shinitzky. 

Some current and former college football players said they understood why Rodgers wanted to try this, but didn’t seem as interested in it, themselves.

Jon Haynes is a wide receiver at Middle Tennessee State University and was a four time all-state selection in high school. He has seen teammates try to isolate their minds from the game before, but never to the level that Rodgers tried. 

“I personally thought he was truly conflicted over every outsider’s opinion,” Haynes said. “He needed to clear his mind and heart to decide what he wanted for himself, so he doesn’t leave anyone confused or disappointed.”

Shinitzky mentioned hindsight being 2020 and the fact that one never has all the information needed to make a decision, so it’s easy to go back and second guess yourself. He thinks this is important for Rodger’s decision because he has to balance between choices relating to his football goals, well being of friends and family and so many other things that will be impacted by any decision he makes.  

Brothers Todd and Corey Lisowski both won 1st team All Ohio as high school Quarterbacks. Todd Lisowski, the middle child, went on to play for Cornell University. Corey Lisowski, the youngest, went on to the University of Dayton.

Todd Lisowski said he believed that Rodgers, being a very introspective and deep thinker, could feel more at peace by doing so. He said his own mindset would have made it less helpful for him.

“I can see him gaining a lot of clarity around big life decisions when confined to darkness and without everyday life distractions,” he continued. “When I was a player, I was less introspective and was more of a practical thinker. Because of this different mindset, I don’t believe a four day period would benefit me at all in the same way it did Rodgers.”

Corey Lisowski agreed. He said there are a lot more factors playing a role in Rodgers decision than people realize.

“At this point in his career, there isn’t much more for him to prove. He is old in NFL terms,” Lisowski continued. “This retreat wouldn’t be for me. I don’t think I could deal with four days of pure nothing. But I think it could help him find comfort and feel at peace with his decision. ”

Rodgers, who turns 40 in December, finished his retreat this past week. He said he will make a decision on his future soon.

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