What Tom Brady has been doing for over two decades is the equivalent of dancing through raindrops without getting wet. He has dominated the most lauded position in American sport – quarterback – to an incredible effect. After being drafted for the 199th time in 2000, he will play in his 10th Super Bowl this Sunday. No other quarterback has ever played in more than five.
We know facts about him: that he doesn’t eat strawberries and that he claims his special TB12 diet and exercise plan allowed him to extend his productive years like no one else who has ever played the game. And yet Brady remains a cipher behind the pretty, well-preserved face.
There are people who branded him a Trump fanatic because there was a MAGA hat in his locker in 2015. But that doesn’t explain why Brady has made an effort over the past six years never to be photographed anywhere near Trump. It also didn’t show up to two separate Super Bowl celebrations at the White House. That meant defying not just Trump, but Trump’s sidekick in Rot Patriot franchise owner Bob Kraft. It sounds almost principled, until you learn that Brady has never given a reason beyond family concerns for missing out on both events.
He never said a bad word about Trump and chose to be “neutral” at a time when Trump was using the NFL as his personal punching bag. Brady came out in favor of exiled quarterback Colin Kaepernick, but only after a ton of players did so first. It was a simple elevator.
Brady went out of his way to offend as few people as possible in this era of polarization because Brady is all about his brand. He is more of a brand than a person. His brand is what he loves and above all protects.
There are other great all-time athletes of the past year who fall into this category, people whose self-esteem is more tied to marketability and profit than to politics or principles. It’s a rare air that includes Leviathans like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. The difference between Brady and his two compatriots is that Jordan and Tiger are black. Brady’s white prevents any kind of questioning – the kind Jordan and Woods have experienced throughout their careers – about whether he should do more with his platform, something more than just play soccer, and be Brady.
This lack of interrogation has enabled Brady to slalom from scandal to scandal for the past 20 years without fear of what his actions might mean for society or “the children”. There were more “gates” in Florida than one wealthy community. Videogate or Deflategate could have lost less talent, and a black athlete in a similar pickle would undoubtedly have been canceled.
There’s Brady’s bizarre personal physician, a naturopath named Alex Guerrero, who Brady’s New England trainer, Bill Belichick, kicked out of the team’s facilities for murky, unknown reasons. And in perhaps Brady’s most disturbing act, he campaigned for the talented and venomous Antonio Brown to play first in New England and now in Tampa Bay. The allegations against Brown for violence against women are so disgusting that the overall probability is that Brown would not find a way back into the National Football League without Brady’s imprimatur. Normally Brady concerns the Bogart Line with “sticking his neck”, but he treated Brown as if he were behind enemy lines in Vichy, France. Recipients like Brown have the ability to extend the careers of people like Brady, and that’s the only moral calculus shown.
As David Leonard wrote so prophetically in 2015“Tom Brady demonstrates the unshakable power of white in America today. Black people are punished and demonized for fraud. White men like Tom Brady can do all sorts of things to gain a competitive advantage, and they play the system. ”
The truth is that Brady is not a crypto-fascist or a saint. It’s actually pretty simple. He doesn’t talk about politics because he doesn’t know anything about politics. He had a Donald Trump hat because Trump was a rich man on the golf course who was always quick with a scatological joke. It is his inconceivable privilege not to have to worry about Trump being a racist or an authoritarian. When he found out that others weren’t happy, this hat entered the witness protection program and has not been seen since.
He’s been part of so many beating opponents or Father Time scandals because he understands that his brand is inextricably linked to his reputation as the greatest winner in NFL history. He understands with laser-like intensity that the people of the 21st century don’t necessarily care about how you win, just that you emerge victorious. And his white is a card that allows any reporter who has questioned his priorities or morals to be freely released from prison. Because in the end, Tom Brady is not asked to carry the weight of a community beyond that in his manse. He just needs to be accountable to one person and that is Tom Brady Brand. Good luck in spotting the difference between brand and person.