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Leibovich: 'You need a pretty sharp mind to play football'

Mark Leibovich set out to write a book about the NFL as a way to escape the “swamp” of DC politics. Instead, he found a culture that is similar.
by Mikayla Harris /
Image: Tom Brady New England Patriots
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady stays loose on the sideline against the Carolina Panthers in the first quarter on Aug. 24, 2018, in Charlotte, North Carolina.Streeter Lecka / Getty Images

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WASHINGTON — Longtime Washington reporter Mark Leibovich set out to write a book about the NFL as a way to escape the “swamp” of D.C. politics. Instead, he found a culture that is remarkably similar.

“One thing I realized immediately is that this too is a swamp,” Leibovich told NBC News’ Chuck Todd for the latest "1947: The Meet the Press" podcast. “It is a club.”

Leibovich has covered national politics for the New York Times and is currently the chief national correspondent for the New York Times Magazine. His new book, “Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times,” grew out of his 2015 profile of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for the magazine.

“It now is as polarized a cultural institution as we have,” Leibovich said of the NFL. He noted the left has always been suspicious of the NFL because of its “over-the-top patriotism, militarism, and violence.” Now, Leibovich remarked, President Donald Trump turned a portion of the right against the NFL as well.

Leibovich said that his status as an NFL outsider made players and owners more interested in speaking with him. For them, it was a chance to talk about something besides football.

“They all wanted to talk politics with me,” he said. “People care about politics even if they’re not political.”

Even the illustrious Tom Brady wanted to talk politics. Leibovich noted that although the quarterback says he is “apolitical” he would ask Leibovich questions about covering Trump and President Barack Obama.

“He can be very expansive,” Leibovich said of Brady.

Leibovich also noted some of the Brady family’s quirks. “Apparently there’s a big bin of Uggs that Gisele [Bündchen] likes people to change into” when they enter the house, he said. “She doesn’t like regular shoes treading through.”

Although he interviewed coaches, reporters, and owners, Leibovich found the players to be the most interesting.

“You need a pretty sharp mind to play football,” Leibovich said. “I wouldn’t last a second in there.”

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