Tom Brady’s official retirement message on Tuesday has, predictably, been met with a variety of takes. These takes tend to fall into four categories:
"What a great player! I love Tom Brady!"
"I hate Boston sports teams! I hate Tom Brady!"
"What a cheater! I hate Tom Brady!"
"Good riddance to that MAGA-hat-wearing symbol of white oppression. I really hate Tom Brady!"
The camp you fall into may be inadvertently personally revealing; it’s a fun little Sorting Hat for our sporting era.
The camp you fall into may be inadvertently personally revealing; it’s a fun little Sorting Hat for our sporting era. Clearly, Brady is a cultural lightning rod, but as his legendary career ends, I feel obliged to point out one criticism that should be corrected. Not only was Brady not any kind of fascist, I’m pretty sure he was never really on board with Donald Trump in the first place.
Yet, the "MAGA-hat-loving Brady" legend has been such a large part of his narrative for more than a half-decade that it has taken on a life of its own; I’ve actually heard him called “this generation’s Lindbergh.”
Maybe you hate Brady and maybe you don’t, but as the news cycle begins litigating and relitigating Brady’s larger-than-life legacy, let’s be clear about what he did — and what he didn’t — say or do. It's unavoidable that one of the greatest North American athletes ever be mythologized, but at least let us mythologize based on fact, not fiction.
Brady didn’t put the hat in his locker
If you know one thing about Brady’s alleged politics, it probably ties back to that famous picture of Brady with the "Make America Great Again" hat in his locker way back in September 2015. Brady had said he was “friends” with Trump and that “he’s a hell of a lot of fun to play golf with.”
But it’s worth noting that Brady isn’t the one who put the hat in his locker: That happened via Patriots owner Robert Kraft — Brady’s boss, such as it was — who was such a longtime Trump friend and supporter that he may have asked Trump to try to intervene during the team’s Spygate scandal.
Remember, too, that this was September 2015: Brady, like most of America then, surely didn’t take Trump’s candidacy particularly seriously. (Be honest, you didn’t either.) Brady was explicit in an interview that week that he was not expressing support for Trump for president and that the hat should not be seen as an endorsement of that. (He later said, “Political support is a lot different than the support of a friend.”)
The hat was never seen again, and Brady never said a word in support of Trump again afterward. Indeed, the only thing he ever said about Trump politically was to say he “disagreed” with him when Trump said protesting athletes should be “dragged off the field.”
Besides Kraft, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was a real Trump supporter. On the eve of the election in 2016, Trump read from a letter Belichick had sent him — a letter that, despite a cadence that sounded suspiciously like Trump’s, Belichick confirmed sending. ESPN writer Seth Wickersham later revealed that some on the team were so upset by Belichick’s Trump support that they nearly boycotted practice. But none of them ever said a word about Brady.
Brady never went to the White House when Trump was there
Brady did not visit the White House with the Patriots when the team celebrated with President Barack Obama in 2015. But he also did not join when the team visited the White House during the Trump administration.
Brady’s career has spanned many different presidents, and he did visit two of them: President George W. Bush in 2004 and 2005 and President Joe Biden last year. During his visit with the latter, Brady joked, “Not a lot of people think that we could have won. In fact, I think about 40 percent of people still don't think we won. You understand that, Mr. President?" It was widely considered a swipe at Trump.
Brady’s wife has been less circumspect
Brady has never explicitly said what he thought of Trump politically, but his wife, Gisele Bundchen, sure has. When, on the eve of the 2016 election, someone asked her on Instagram if she and Brady were voting for Trump, she gave an emphatic “No!”
Also, on the day when Brady’s teammates were visiting the Trump White House — and her husband was not — she tweeted a link to the climate change protest specifically slated for Trump’s 100th day in office. She even reportedly told Brady to stop talking about politics at all, lest there be any confusion, advice he clearly followed.
Ultimately, Brady is unlike most athletes — and Americans. But where he is very much like most athletes, and most Americans, is in his apparent desire not to talk about politics — at all. Is Tom Brady a Republican? A Democrat? A Proud Boy? A Bernie Bro? While Brady said years ago that he did enjoy “following” politics, he has, like many celebrities, mostly just supported blandly safe causes and charities.
This doesn’t make him brave, and there’s certainly a case to be made that he should wield his considerable power and influence differently. Brady has mostly ignored the trend of the athlete-activist, typified by stars like LeBron James or Megan Rapinoe. Do many of us wish Brady had spoken up against Trump? Of course. But the fact that he didn’t makes him exactly like, oh, every other Super Bowl quarterback of the last 20 years. (Well, almost every one.)
It is possible that Brady is secretly a Gettr user and a heavy financial supporter of Trump (though no donations have ever been given to a Trump campaign in his name), and he’s just been incredibly stealth about it. But it’s more likely that Trump was just a golfing buddy who suddenly ran for president.
So you can hate Tom Brady all you want. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to do so (I didn’t even touch on his wellness stuff or his support of Antonio Brown). But him being a Trump supporter isn’t one of them. Sorry.