If Tom Brady was Black
If Tom Brady was Black…
If Tom Brady was Black, I don’t believe he would’ve been drafted into the NFL. If Tom Brady was Black, he would have faced the pressure of being expected to comment on every tragedy involving Black life within the United States. If Tom Brady was Black, I believe mainstream sports media would’ve chastised Tom Brady for his fourteen year relationship and support of Donald Trump long before this week’s Super Bowl.
I think it lasted for 72 hours. My memory gets a bit hazier every day, so it could have been 96. Either way you slice it, I still vividly remember the leading story of nearly every sports show in the hours leading up to January’s New York Giants vs. Green Bay Packers playoff game being mired with discussion about New York Giants wide receiver, Odell Beckham Jr., taking a day trip to Miami with teammates on his day off before his first playoff game.
What a man does on his day off in the public eye is not a headline. It’s a distraction. It’s an ESPN discussion topic.
In American sports culture, many fans have a sense of unrealistic entitlement to know exactly what their favorite athletes are doing at any given time. Moreover, if the average fan believes that their favorite player has any sort of life outside of his or her career, it’s a headline.
Two weeks after the Giants game, ESPN’s primetime show SportsCenter included 72 hours of content regarding Pittsburgh Steeler wide receiver Antonio Brown’s use of Facebook Live from his team’s locker room following a playoff win. Again, this coverage included discussion on television, radio segments and in newspaper headline that labeled him a distraction to his team’s preparations for the upcoming game.
Unfortunately for these two All-Pro NFL wide receivers, their teams didn’t advance to the Super Bowl. One could label their playoff failures as a product of human error or just not performing at their best. However, others will label it as a product of their “distractions.”
As time inches closer to the Super Bowl, sports media has finally arrived on its biggest distraction, the long-lasting friendship between Tom Brady and President Donald Trump. Despite the fact that Donald Trump and Tom Brady have been friends during a number of Trump’s problematic moments ranging from beauty pageant scandals to the nomination of Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, this has just now become a recurring topic in mainstream sports media.
When the Houston Texans caused trouble for Brady and company through three quarters in a divisional playoff game that the Patriots were heavily favored to win, Brady’s connection to Trump was not a distraction. When the Pittsburgh Steelers played the Patriots in the American Football Conference championship game, Brown’s postgame live stream was declared more of a “distraction” than Brady’s connection to Trump during inauguration week.
To put it simply, we live in an American sports culture where enjoying Facebook Live and traveling to Miami on your day off is more of a distraction than being a personal friend of a man who has arguably run the most homophobic, transphobic, sexist, islamophobic, racist and outright discriminatory presidential campaign of the 21st century.
Why did it take so long to get to this point where mainstream sports media is being critical of Tom Brady on a continuous basis? We live in an age where Lebron James is questioned about his support of the protests over the death of Tamir Rice because he lives in the same area where Rice died. Moreover, we live in an era when several athletes are being berated with inquiries for their connections to the Black Lives Matter movement.
If mainstream sports media can question athletes about so many other social issues as they occur, why did it take so long for mainstream sports media to become critical of Brady’s connection to Trump? If the point of media is to question everything, it should question Brady into submission. By no means is Brady obligated to answer any questions, but it would be irresponsible for him to get away with saying that he doesn’t understand why his relationship to the most divisive figure in America today is such a big deal.
Black athletes are asked about everything under the sun involving topics that have nothing to do with sports. If Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had a personal connection to activists Alicia Garza, DeRay McKesson or Netta Elzie, he would be crucified. There wouldn’t be an “I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal.” There wouldn’t be a “let’s just stick to sports.” It would be a continuous news story that doesn’t appear once in October and then disappear until the biggest moment of the NFL season.
If Tom Brady looked like Cam Newton’s cousin, we would know every text message and phone call exchanged between the two. Brady’s relationship to Trump isn’t important because he is controversial or has run a bizarre campaign. Brady’s relationship to Trump is important to analyze because it ties this major public sports figure to a man who has made comments and suggested public policies that are racist, transphobic, homophobic, sexist and discriminatory.
Any athlete is a public figure and therefore open to public criticism for their actions or the company they keep. If the brother of New York Knicks point guard Derrick Rose did or said something similar to that of Donald Trump’s rhetoric Rose would be asked to answer for him.
The bottom line is that we question Black athletes about everything and everyone they are connected to, but what does it say about mainstream media and those who consume it if we don’t continuously question the most successful quarterback in the history of the NFL for his long standing friendship with the most divisive U.S. president of this generation?
Ryan Shepard is a junior in the School of Communication and is a columnist for The Eagle.