Not long ago Green Bay Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, and girlfriend actress, Oliva Munn, become the new “it” couple in the sporting world and maybe also the internet. Of course, with any attention comes negative attention, and when you play quarterback for a team with one of the most loyal, but demanding, fan bases, it does not take long for hateful commentary to emerge when things are not going well.
These are the kinds of things you could hear from Packer fans throughout the 2015 season: “Aaron Rodgers is distracted because of Olivia Munn”, “Aaron Rodgers needs to lose Olivia Munn”, or “Aaron Rodgers doesn’t care about football since he started dating Olivia Munn”. And some of it seems to be getting to Munn directly, as based on her heated response when asked about that type of criticism on air recently. Some of these comments are likely misguided, awkward, and mildly sexist attempts at a compliment, where the fan (usually male) is essentially saying, “Gosh that Olivia Munn is pretty. I would sure be distracted if she was dating me!”. But others are just nasty, spiteful, and, worst of all, wrong.
And I don’t just mean morally wrong. It’s statistically wrong. And I can show you.
According to the interwebs, Aaron Rodgers and Olivia Munn have been dating since early 2014, meaning they were together through both the 2014 and 2015 seasons. To make a meaningful comparison of Rodgers’ stats pre-Olivia and while dating Oliva, I pulled his quarterback rating from the two years before they started dating and the two years when they were dating and plotted them here:
What we see is that overall, Rodgers’ play has been very consistent between when he was dating Munn and the two-year period prior to when they dated, posting an average QB rating of over 100 in both periods. The stats also track within a couple points of his career average. You can break it out by season and read a little deeper into the story:
The 2014 season was the first year the pair were together, and it was the second best season of Rodgers’ career as he posted a 112.3 QB rating. The 2015 season was not as good as he posted a 92.7 QB rating, but consider the circumstances: this was a season where a cardboard cut-out of Jordy Nelson might have had a better chance of getting open than the guys who were actually on the field. Yet despite devastating injuries to his wide receiving corps and offensive line, Rodgers was still able to put together a strong season by almost any other QB’s standards, take his team to the playoffs, and come infamously close to reaching the NFC title game. When framed in this context, Olivia Munn starts to look more like a muse than a distraction.
But of course this is not the first QB and celebrity relationship, even for Rodgers. So while Rodgers and Munn are an interesting case study, we can do a nice little analysis by bringing in other QBs who have dated someone famous.
And so, in one of my more shameful moments as a researcher, I visited a site called “FamousHookups.com” that keeps a charming little database of other people’s business. From here I was able to get information on the approximate start and end dates for the following QB/celebrity relationships. I then pulled QB rating for each player during the relationship, for a period of time before the relationship, and for a period after. The length of the before and after periods was set equal to the length of the relationship.
|Quarterback||Celebrity||Started dating||Duration (months)|
|Aaron Rodgers||Olivia Munn||2014||24, still together|
|Aaron Rodgers||Erin Andrews||2010||12|
|Jeff Garcia||Carmella DeCesare||2004||144, still together!|
|Tony Romo||Carrie Underwood||2006||7|
|Tony Romo||Jessica Simpson||2007||20|
|Tom Brady||Bridget Moynahan||2004||24|
|Tom Brady||Tara Reid||2002||1|
|Russell Wilson||Ciara||2015||9, still together|
|Ben Rothlesberger||Missy Peregrym||2007||11|
|Mark Sanchez||Eva Longoria||2010||4|
|Jay Cutler||Kristin Cavallari||2010||Off and on, now married|
A few notes about this dataset: this is probably not an exhaustive list to start with, and there were quite a few offseason romances that could not be included because there were no games happening. You’ll notice some of the same QBs show up multiple times while other well-known QBs are absent from the list, often having been married for most of their careers (an interesting finding of this research was that, like the Gentoo penguins, Mannings mate for life!). A couple of these celebrities may be less well-known than others. Carmella DeCesare is a former “Playboy Playmate of the Year”. So, I guess that qualifies. Missy Peregrym is an actress known for “Rookie Blue” and “Stick It” (and if you haven’t seen “Stick It” you haven’t seen Jeff Bridges play a gymnastics coach). After perusing this list you may be wondering, “But what about Tom Brady and Gisele?!”. Well, it’s complicated. You see on the list above that Tom Brady dated actress Bridget Moynahan from 2004 to 2006. Tom started dating supermodel Gisele Bundchen very soon after he and Moynahan broke up. So, the Tom and Gisele data point is compromised because the “pre-relationship” data overlaps with another relationship, and they are still together so there is no “post-relationship” data either.
With the explanations out of the way, here’s the punchline: among this set of QBs, there is no indication that being in a relationship with a celebrity has hurt their play. In fact, the data indicate the opposite! QB rating increased by an average of about 10 points during a relationship compared to their play immediately before, and most players exceeded their career average QB rating during the relationship as well!
If you look at some of these individually, there are some kind of wild cases. For one sweet month in 2009 while dating “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria, Mark Sanchez transformed into Broadway Joe Namath reincarnate. Promptly after they broke up, he returned to being Mark Sanchez. Given the NBA success of Tony Parker, Longoria’s other famous athlete flame, are we left to assume she is some kind of master at analyzing game tape or something?
A young Tom Brady got a similar bump from a one-month fling with actress Tara Reid. Side-note: who would have thought at the time that it would be Brady, and not the hard-partying Reid, who would go on to have the more scandalous career?
So circling back to our main question. There is really no evidence that dating someone in the public eye hurts a quarterback’s performance. Our results support those from a broader study along the same lines but including multiple sports. Despite the lack of statistical support, criticism of athlete’s personal lives will probably not go away anytime soon, particularly with the media stoking the fire by biting at any chance to run stories like this, or this, or this. Until The Onion (God bless them) finally gets the right take on the situation and makes everyone involved look silly.
So next time Aaron Rodgers throws a pick or misses an open receiver let’s try to remember three things:
- He’s a professional. It is likely not the result of losing focus because he has a girlfriend. If it were that easy to distract people from doing their job, we should be a lot more concerned about surgeons’ love lives than football players’.
- The numbers do not support claims that dating hurts athletes.
- If we’re true fans of Aaron Rodgers, shouldn’t we support what makes him happy? He doesn’t belong to us just because he wears our team’s jersey, and it makes complete sense he would choose to be with someone similarly attractive and successful in her field. They seem to be really happy and having fun. So Packer fans, let’s leave them alone and start obsessing over the long-term health of Jordy Nelson’s ACL for a while.