The Bleacher Creature was a happy man this week. Not only did my Patriots pull off the most improbable comeback in Super Bowl history for their fifth franchise ring, Tom Brady got to cement his GOAT QB status, assert his dominance over Roger Goodell like a ‘50s greaser shaking down a dweeb for lunch money and silence all of his innumerable haters all in one night. And boy, were there a lot of haters out there.
Tom Terrific has always been disliked outside of New England because he has been inordinately successful and almost too flawless in his demeanor and playing style. But never before did he have so many rooting against him not just because of jealousy, but due to a personal vendetta. You see, Brady (and Pats head coach Bill Belichick) supported Donald Trump for president.
Can you believe they haven’t thrown these two in jail yet? I mean, supporting a political candidate whose views were popular enough that he was elected to the highest office in the land … what do these two think this is, America?
In the two weeks leading up the Super Bowl, pundits reached for their torches and pitchforks and set out on the latest Patriots witch hunt; this time, a smear campaign designed to show that Brady and Belichick, in their passive support of a man who they both consider to be a personal friend, are aiding and abetting vile bigotry.
This guilt by association is a deeply partisan attack that seems to only be levied against the right these days, but I’m not going to talk about that here. Why? This is a sports column. Well, I guess it’s a sports column about politics. Hopefully the last sports column about politics.
As I am about to rail against the needless injection of personal politics into sports reporting, I am deeply aware of the irony of writing this piece at all. I would love to be able to focus just on recapping the big game or previewing the next free-agent class, because those are generally the things that people come to the sports section to read. Sports are an escape from the stresses that mount in our daily lives, and as politics become ever more pervasive, we need a nonpartisan activity to bring us together more than ever.
Unfortunately, the virus of political discourse just can’t seem to leave any medium untouched. Zach Lowe, a shrewdly intelligent basketball analyst who is the absolute best in the best in the business at what he does (breaking down the intricacies of the game for the casual fan), has peppered his articles with subtle jabs at the Trump administration lately. Bill Simmons’ TheRinger.com, the successor to my dear departed Grantland, is filled with entirely one-sided and insubstantial political think pieces. ESPN’s Dan LeBatard blasted the network several months ago because he wanted to spend his show discussing the Trump audio leaks instead of, you know, sports. And baseball writer Jonah Keri recently wrote a piece for CBS Sports in which he laid out all the ways that sports have always been inextricably linked to politics, hearkening all the way back to Jackie Robinson. This is too much, and frankly I think somebody like Keri is missing the point.
I understand that sports do not exist in an apolitical vacuum and that there are sometimes crossover events between entertainment and the real world. When an athlete’s actions are political (not merely when they have a political opinion, mind you), it opens the door to a broader discussion. Of course Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier was about more than just who would be playing second base for the Dodgers that year, it was a profound statement on the civil rights of Black Americans.
The same can be said for Colin Kaepernick and his taking a knee during the National Anthem. Whether you agree with his stance or not, it was addressing the hot-button issue of the day that is police brutality and discrimination.
These aren’t things that I have any problem with sports writers talking about. But there is a massive difference between an athlete himself bringing politics into the conversation and the media choosing to bring it to him.
Tom Brady owns a “Make America Great Again” hat and acknowledged that he supported Donald Trump in the November election. These things are true. What’s also true is that at no point did he ever indicate that he wanted to get bogged down in a discussion of his personal politics.
Simply having an opinion does not mean you think you are qualified to discuss it (Brady clearly doesn’t think he is, which is a refreshingly honest self-awareness that many Americans lack) or that you would like to do so.
If the media wanted, they could accost any player about his political leanings and get all sorts of juicy gossip, even if the players aren’t particularly well-informed. I guarantee that lots of people across all four major American sports have controversial opinions on LGBT rights, gun control, race relations, etc., but I guess because they aren’t uber-famous and don’t own a hat they aren’t given any attention.
My problem with this is that it just seems to be another tool of divisiveness and polarization, taking the sacred neutral ground that is the field of play and smearing it with partisan rancor.
It’s all being done in the name of virtue signalling and demonizing the other side, and if we ever hope to heal our country’s growing divide, that needs to stop. Look at me, I’m getting political; I never said it was easy to avoid this stuff. I’ll end on a positive note, something to illustrate just how much sports can bridge the great divide when politics are left out of it.
Media commentators like Bill Maher would have had you root against the Patriots in the Super Bowl just because their most important player refused to say that Trump is Satan incarnate. Doesn’t matter if you just like the team, this is supposed to be “bigger than that.” Well, do you want a way to get Republicans and Democrats to agree on something? Make sure they are both from New England and then insult Tom Brady.