I’ve only cried in public twice. The first time was on Feb. 3, 2008. The tears broke through when Ellis Hobbs fell for the fake inside slant that left Plaxico Burress wide-open for the winning touchdown. The David Tyree catch was shocking, but I was stunned in the same manner as someone who witnessed a horrible accident. That touchdown made it all too real, that I was part of a great wreckage.
The second time was on Feb. 5, 2012. The tears were there already, but watching Rob Gronkowski dive for the batted ball after the initial Hail Mary pass at the end led to whimpers. Had Malcolm Butler not picked off Russell Wilson at the 1-yard line three years later, I would have lost all grip on reality.
My fandom for the New England Patriots has always been this dramatic and almost religiously zealous — which I imagine is the standard for everyone else with their favorite teams. Every win is euphoric and every loss feels like the worst, deepest, and most immediate pain ever.
Yet, every Sunday, I return to the altar of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady for more blessings. The experience, to be fair, has been more prosperous in just this decade than most teams’ performances have been in their history.
One of my favorite things to tweet on game days is a picture of a fan holding up a sign that reads: “Our God is an awesome God. His name is Tom Brady.” It usually comes when Brady is doing things to the opposing defense that would make concerned mothers cover the eyes of their children.
The other is a picture of Brady Jesus:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me"- 3x Superbowl Champion Tom Brady pic.twitter.com/i9Bz5Wea5L— Zito (@_Zeets) August 7, 2013
They’re both tongue-in-cheek, but like most ridiculous jokes, they stem from valid feelings. I’ve always naively considered Brady to be a righteous person.
It’s an irrational but common idolization: not only do we assume that being successful equates to being virtuous and intelligent, but we like to think, or we hope that, things that we like are good, mostly because we like them.
These things bring us joy and are part of our identity and experience, so we defend them as such. And that defense sometimes borders on idiotic and fanatical because, of course, emotions aren’t reasonable.
But there are times when things happen that force the heart to take a backseat to the mind.
At the beginning of last season, right after his initial suspension for DeflateGate had been overturned, reporters spotted a Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” hat in Brady’s locker. When asked about it, Brady said that Trump sent it to him because the two are good friends, but declined to answer whether he was voting for the candidate.
Recently, after the tape of Trump and Billy Bush discussing sexual assault surfaced, Brady was asked about Trump’s description of that conversation as “locker room banter.” The reporter asked how Brady would respond to his kids hearing Trump’s version of locker room talk. Brady ended the press conference and left.
A special thanks to the guy who asked Tom Brady about Donald Trump locker room talk and the end of his press conference #WBZ #Patriots pic.twitter.com/sCx59IArsw— Joe Giza (@JoeGiza) October 12, 2016
The sensible reaction is to say that Brady has every right to support whomever he pleases in the election and to refuse to speak on any issues not regarding football. He’s at work, after all, and politics — along with religion and sex — are the top three demons forbidden to be invoked in the workplace. He has the right to stick to sports.
Except he doesn’t. Brady is an intelligent and meticulous man who micromanages his days to the millisecond and diet to the calorie. He knew what statement he was making when he first put the hat there, and he knows exactly what he’s doing by not defining his relationship with Donald Trump, and not condemning Trump’s insults towards women. The initial hat and the silence afterwards are both clear political acts, workplace or not.
That’s fine, it’s his choice. The issue isn’t with whom he supports, but the odd position in which it places his fans who are not white men.
Brady’s friend isn’t an ordinary presidential candidate. A staple of his run has been the disrespect and demonization of various groups: Mexicans are rapists, blacks are violent and uneducated, refugees and Muslims in general are secret terrorists, and he’s begun to blame Jews for helping Hillary Clinton rig the election against him. And, of course, there are numerous damning videos that shed light on how little he thinks of women.
As a member of one of those targeted groups, it’s impossible to ignore when someone you once worshiped possibly thinks it’s fair that you should be stripped of your liberties, freedoms, and agency in the future. Or easily dismisses that possibility by invoking an old friendship.
The friend of my enemy is my enemy.
And because of this, the godlike image that I had of Brady is shattered. To his credit, my idolization of him was never agreed on by both parties. All he did was play football. Joshua Ferris captured the sentiment in his book To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. A novel about stolen identities, shadowy pasts, and even more unsure futures that centers, coincidentally, around a rabid sports fan:
“You’re always objectifying me,” she said. “You idealize me, and then you’re disappointed when it turns out I’m not perfect. You blame me for not being godlike. It’s tiresome.”
The conclusive cliché, then, is that no one is perfect. Everyone has their faults and it’s unfair to pretend otherwise. It’s the backbone to the suggestion that an artist can be separated from their work. Brady’s politics should not keep us from enjoying his performances on the field.
But the shoulder-shrug sentiment that “everyone is flawed” is cowardice. It’s a shield that allows morality to be exchanged for entertainment. That feigned objectiveness is also reserved for people who are distanced from the victimized groups. It’s easy to divorce Brady’s politics from Brady the player, when you are not directly affected by the consequences of the former.
Brady has never said that he was anything but a man, with all the faults and strengths that come with that. He’s just a really good football player, as well. It was a mistake on my part to use his success in his profession to paint him as a saint. He still has the capacity to be as kind and as caring as I had imagined, and he may very well be that way to people and groups who are favorable to him. One flaw shouldn’t be used as a determinant for a person’s whole life.
But even as an ordinary individual, the lowest bar to clear to not be terrible is that you do not harm others unfairly. A step up from that low bar is not being complicit in that harm. Here, under the guise of friendship and the “Patriot way,” is where Brady has squared himself. He still has the right to be what he wants and do whatever he pleases. To be as flawed as every other human being. It’s just impossible to look at him or support him in the same way ever again.