Tom Brady, the breathlessly confident, all-world New England Patriots quarterback was speaking in an unfamiliar tone on WEEI Radio last Monday. He was whining. Fresh off another stellar AFC Championship performance and headed to his record seventh Super Bowl, the great Brady was flummoxed by the idea that some in the media have been pressing him over his very public friendship with Donald Trump. He said:
“Why does that make such a big deal? I don’t understand that…. I don’t wanna get into it, but, just—if you know someone, it doesn’t mean that you agree with everything that they say or do. Right? There’s things I don’t believe [in], absolutely. I don’t believe in, you know, there’s a lot of things. Not to denounce anything, it’s just that there’s different things that I feel like, you know… I don’t agree with everything. That’s fine, right?”
Tom Brady does not understand. If the insistence of his wife, Gisele Bundchen, that she would never vote for Trump has not gotten through to him, if the hashtag #notmyfootballteam—in reference to the close ties among Patriots owner Bob Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick, Brady, and Trump—confuses him, then maybe we should try to make it plain.
Why is this mutual man-crush an issue? First and foremost, Trump used his friendship with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in the final days before the election, publicly touting their “endorsements.” He even read a letter from Belichick at a closing-night campaign rally in New Hampshire. Whether or not Donald Trump had permission to do these things—I have it on good authority that he did not—doesn’t change the fact that Brady and Belichick were not bystanders to this election but actors within it.
That has not changed. At a pre-inauguration dinner, after thanking his family, Trump turned to Bob Kraft and said, “Your friend Tom just called, he feels good. He called to congratulate us, he feels good.” On Monday, there was Trump flack Kellyanne Conway on Fox & Friends saying, “President Trump is just so grateful that friends like Tom Brady are loyal and can ignore the shrapnel.” She also thanked Kraft, someone who also knows something about getting played by Vladimir Putin.
Trump uses these relationships as a tool of legitimization. Other celebrities Trump has spent a lifetime stalking have turned their backs on him. Prominent athletes and coaches are treating him like a punchline. But Trump still has Tom Brady in his back pocket, and he will use that in the days ahead.