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Friday, February 24, 2017

February 24, 2017: AmericanStudying Non-Favorites: Tom Brady

[It’s back—the very popular annual post-Valentine’s non-favorites series, in which I AmericanStudy some of those things that just don’t quite do it for me. Leading up to what is always my most full and fun crowd-sourced weekend post, so share your own non-favorites in comments, please!]
Two ways I’d (apologetically-not-apologetically) critique the all-time great quarterback.
For a while now I’ve thought that my non-favorites post on Thomas Jefferson (just the namesake of the street I grew up on and the founder of the university where my Dad teaches and the patron saint of my hometown and and and) was the post most likely to lose me Facebook friends (lots of Cville connections there, natch). But I’ve taught at Fitchburg State University for 12 years, and lived in Massachusetts for nearly 14, so I think this non-favorites post might just take over the top spot. For what it’s worth, I’ll start by being very clear: I think New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has as that article details a very strong case for being the greatest quarterback of all time (and had one even before winning his fifth, and most impressive, Super Bowl a few weeks back). When it comes to what he has done on the football field, I come here to praise the Golden Boy, not to bury him. Furthermore, when it comes to issues immediately adjacent to the football field, I’m not going to focus at all in this post on Deflategate, the scandal and controversy about which I said all I need or want to say in that hyperlinked post from last year’s football series. Even if Brady could have handled that moment and its aftermath better, it’s fair to say that this year’s success put all of that behind him, and I’d have to be a much more impassioned anti-Patriots fan than I am to say otherwise.
No, my critiques of Brady have to do with non-football related issues, which might seem to be irrelevant or unfair; but to my mind athletes, like all of us, are parts of society in every way, and moreover are (like artists or politicians or pundits) public figures who can be analyzed and critiqued for elements beyond their performance of their professional duties. Sometimes those elements are deeply personal, as is the first on which I’d knock Brady a bit: the way he handled and has continued to handle his initial experience of fatherhood, with actress Bridget Moynahan. Or more exactly, to be fair, the way that this side of Brady has been covered and portrayed in the sports and national media. For much of their son Jack’s young life, Moynahan raised him as a single mother, with (as far as I can tell, and of course all of this is somewhat speculative) relatively little involvement from Brady (they were living on opposite coasts, among other things). I’m not suggesting that they would have had to get married, or that any particular life path is necessary (or for anyone else to say)—but at the very least, I would note that Brady’s status as an out-of-wedlock and at least somewhat absentee father received far, far less critique than (to my mind) many of his fellow athletes, and perhaps especially African American athletes, receive for the same situations. Then, when Brady married Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen, Jack suddenly became a central part of his and their lives, and in my experience has been covered as just another child of theirs (along with Brady and Gisele’s own children). None of this is simple or would have to be portrayed in any one way—but nonetheless, the thorough absence of critical coverage of any of it is a principal reason why I call Brady Golden Boy.
To be fair, though, my critiques on that score do have much more to do with the coverage and portrayals of Brady than with his own actions or choices. My second critique, however, is almost entirely about Brady’s own actions and words. In September 2015, as Donald Trump’s incendiary presidential campaign was just heating up, Brady revealed that he had a “Make American Great Again” hat in his locker; but he refused to talk about any political contexts for that choice, attributing it simply to his longstanding friendship with Trump. Now that Trump has become president, Brady has reiterated that the two remain friends and speak on the phone frequently, but has one again downplayed the slightest political connection for such details; indeed, at a pre-Super Bowl press conference when asked about current world events, Brady responded, “What’s going on in the world? I haven’t paid much attention. I’m just a positive person.” I’m not suggesting that Brady would have to start protesting like Colin Kaepernick, but first of all, I don’t care who you are or how positive of a person you are—nobody in America, or in the world, can afford to not pay much attention to what’s going on at the moment, and certainly no public figure should advocate such ignorance. And second of all, and most saliently for my point here, Brady has made a very public point of his friendship and phone calls with Donald Trump, the extreme and divisive president who has directly caused much of what’s going on in the world—so he doesn’t then get to pretend to be neutral or separate from all that’s happening. Brady and Trump are now thoroughly intertwined, and while that won’t change his legacy on the field, to my mind it absolutely has to be part of his overall legacy and story.
Crowd-sourced non-favorites this weekend,
PS. So one more: what do you think? Takes on this non-favorite or others you’d share?

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