What’s a Super Bowl without controversy?
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are in Houston for their record-setting ninth appearance in Sunday’s NFL championship game, but the biggest questions the future Hall-of-Famer faces this week have nothing to do with the Atlanta Falcons secondary, his receiving corps or coach Bill Belichick’s game plan.
Instead, football’s best player has become the focus of a political debate between those, including many in the sports world, who insist the quarterback must explain — or even “disavow” — his friendship with President Trump, and others who contend Brady is as entitled to a political viewpoint as Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco quarterback who spent the season protesting police brutality by taking a knee during the national anthem.
“Can we pls stop politicizing everything? (We came to the sports pgs to escape a politics-centric view of everything),” Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse tweeted Tuesday while linking to a USA Today sports column headlined. “Tom Brady has some explaining to do on Donald Trump.”
In the column, USA Today’s Nancy Armour writes that the 39-year-old Brady has forfeited the right to deflect questions about his relationship with the new president, especially in light of the president’s executive action Friday tightening travel restrictons from seven majority-Muslim countries to the United States.
“Tom Brady no longer gets a pass on his friendship with Donald Trump. Not after this weekend, when the country boiled over in rage and indignation at Trump’s decision to turn America’s back on refugees,” she wrote.
At the annual Super Bowl Media Day scrum on Monday, Brady ducked questions — as has become his custom — about his friendship with the longtime real estate developer and reality TV star that have persisted since Brady was spotted in 2015, shortly after the Trump campaign was launched, with one of the then-candidate’s signature “Make America Great Again” hats.
“What’s going on in the world? I haven’t paid much attention. I’m just a positive person,” Brady said Monday when reporters pressed on the Trump administration’s action.
But Brady owes the press an answer, Armour writes.
“It’s only now, when he’s facing questions and criticism, that he thinks the friendship should be off limits. But it doesn’t work that way. If you stake out a position, you need to own it,” she wrote. “Brady might not agree with Trump’s views or his policies … but in refusing to publicly disavow Trump’s actions, Brady is giving tacit endorsement to both Trump and the chaos he has created.”
Armour’s criticism were echoed on the sports website Deadspin, where writer Barry Petchesky said he wants an “apology” from Brady.
“Owning up to his support of Trump would be respectable,” Petchesky wrote, arguing that refusing to answer questions about politics, “makes Brady a coward.”
On the left-leaning Huffington Post website, Morehouse College professor David Dennis Jr. wrote that Kaepernick, who kneeled or sat on the sidelines during performances of the national anthem this past season, was more patriotic than Brady.
“Supporting Donald Trump as President of The United States is far more threatening to America than taking a knee during the national anthem,” Dennis Jr. wrote.
On Twitter, people angry about the new administration skewered Mr. Sasse for questioning whether the Super Bowl needed to be dragged into the political rancor dividing the country.
“Must be nice to have the privilege of being able to ignore politics b/c you’re not a woman, black, a refugee, Muslim, LGBTQ….,” freelance sportswriter Julie DiCaro tweeted.
Brady has acknowledged his relationship with Donald Trump. The two became friends after the billionaire invited Brady to be a celebrity judge at a beauty pageant shortly after Brady’s first Super Bowl win in 2001. They golf together, with Brady even joking in September 2015 that a Trump presidency would be “great” because “there would be a putting green on the White House lawn.”
The president often touted Brady’s support last year on the stump, but Brady did not appear on the campaign trail and has tried to deflect questions about his support for the real-estate developer-turned-politician by arguing that a friendship does not necessarily mean he supports the president’s political positions.
In a recent appearance on the Boston-based “Kirk and Callahan” radio show, Brady asked, “Why [is it] such a big deal? I don’t understand that. If you know someone, it doesn’t mean that you agree with everything that they say or do, right? … I don’t agree with everything.”
Brady is one of several high-profile members of the Patriots’ organization who enjoy a special relationship with Trump, including coach Bill Belichick. Belichick wrote a letter in November to Trump offering his support, saying later that letter was a restatement of his friendship, not a political endorsement. And Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he received a phone call every week from Trump for a year after the 2011 death of his wife, Myra. Kraft, a lifelong Democrat, considers the president a friend.
But the Patriots’ locker room is as divided on the Trump administration as the rest of America.
Tight end Martellus Bennett, one of Brady’s favorite targets this season, said he’s not likely to attend the traditional congratulatory ceremony at the White House should the Patriots defeat the Atlanta Falcons, telling reporters on Monday that he “most likely” wouldn’t go.
“America was built on inclusiveness not exclusiveness,” Bennett tweeted Monday.