I won’t work Sundays during football season. Often employers ask me why I’m marking myself as unavailable on Sunday, and if I’m religious. In a way this is true, Football is, in essence, my religion — and the Patriots are the idol to which I pray. I will defend them from attack. Hell, I will even honor my commitments and debase myself over them, no matter how much I hate it. What I won’t do anymore, is wear my #12 Tom Brady jersey.
To understand why this is so important to me, we have to start at the significance of the jersey in my life.
What this jersey means to me
It all starts with my father. A life-long Boston sports fan, my father was first and foremost a Red Sox fan. I often tell the story of my New England sports indoctrination. When I was young — sub-10 years old — I was obsessed with Ken Griffey Jr. (Let’s be honest, who wasn’t?) I saved up my allowance, and I went and bought a Seattle Mariner’s hat to show pride in my hero. I returned home and walked in, and my father turned stern. He made me sit on the front porch and wouldn’t let me inside until I agreed to either go with him to buy a Red Sox hat (he would pay for it) or burn the Mariner’s hat in the fireplace. I opted for the former, though I don’t know whatever happened to the Griffey tribute. Dad might have stolen it in the night.
This may sound like a horrifying story to you, but to me, it’s a fond, hilarious memory. My father was serious about his New England sports. He passed away on February 3rd, 2016, four days before Super Bowl 50. He was in the hospital for the month of January, and so he spent most of my visits grilling me about the Patriots. Dad loved the Patriots, and he loved Tom Brady. To him, Tom Brady was the underdog quarterback who succeeded despite the odds. He was a hard worker who showed up every single day ready to grind it out. He was Dad’s kind of player. When I was in college he asked me what Patriots jersey I wore for games. I didn’t have one at the time, so he sent me money to go buy one. He insisted that it be #12.
A little about me
I love a good debate. Pick a topic, any topic, and I would love to debate its finer points. I inherited that from my college professor father. It infuriated those around him, and I’m sure it infuriates those around me.
I’m also a loud, outspoken liberal. That’s me dancing right behind the clapping guy’s right shoulder. That should tell you my politics, and also give you an idea of where this article is going.
Politics ruin everything
Tom Brady and Donald Trump are friends. This is well documented over the years. From their golfing trips to taking photographs at dinner parties, they are friends. “Ah,” you say, “you won’t wear Tom Brady’s jersey because he’s a Trump supporter.” That’s not it, not really. Some of my dearest friends and family members also voted for Donald Trump. While I spend a lot of my time debating them and protesting the actions of the President, it takes more than that to cut them out of my life. Though I judge those I care about for their friends, and encourage them to look a different way, I won’t turn my back on them over their circle. Someone’s singular vote is not enough for me to cut ties with them.
For the most part, Brady was silent about Trump. He answered as a friend would, carefully, speaking about how great it would be for his friend, rather than for the country. He supported a buddy without specifically endorsing them.
The Point of No Return
For me, the moment that made me unable to support my one-time hero came during a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. Trump quoted Brady, who allegedly said, “Donald, I support you, you’re my friend and I voted for you.” Thunderous applause followed. In this moment, Tom Brady had stopped being an American Citizen and was being used as a spokesperson. Whether that’s fair or not, it’s the price of celebrity. Donald Trump was using Tom Brady’s name to drum up support and votes in a key state that happens to be full of Patriots fans. Brady’s name was now used in a way he himself had not allowed — as a clear endorsement of Donald Trump.
A celebrity’s endorsement carries weight over the average person. Where I can try and convince people through fact and debate, a celebrity can directly influence their fans. In that way, the name of a celebrity has more vote potential than the average human. Tom Brady had a choice he was now forced with. He could confirm, and lose my support. He could deny and maintain my support. He even could have said, “Donald Trump is a good friend, and I wish him well in this election but I am not publicly endorsing him. I have not yet voted [Authors’ Note: Brady actually did say that he hadn’t yet voted, contrary to Trump’s statement] and don’t intend to discuss my vote. I believe every American should vote for whoever they feel best represents them and the country in which they wish to live.” That would have been more than enough for me.
Instead, Tom Brady said nothing
Silence is an implicit endorsement. His name was used to raise votes, and he allowed it. Whether he was “endorsing” Donald Trump or not is irrelevant. Trump used his words as an endorsement, and it was up to Brady to decide whether that was acceptable or not. His silence was an allowance.
Here is where I could no longer wear a Tom Brady jersey. To Brady’s credit since then Brady’s wife said that they didn’t vote for Trump, Brady skipped the White House visit (which some say caused Trump to leave Brady out of his speech), and Brady himself criticized Trump’s words since he took office. But to me it doesn’t matter, his non-action spoke volumes to me. So I will no longer wear his name on my body.
“But Ned,” you’re saying, “Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft are also Trump supporters. How can you still love the Patriots?” I’m so glad you asked. Let’s start with those two claims, and then I have a lot more to say.
[media-credit name=”Associated Press” align=”aligncenter” width=”1166″][/media-credit]
The follies of friendship
Man, that picture above has caused me so much internal turmoil. Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft are friends of Donald Trump’s. Like Tom Brady, that friendship was used for political gain by the president during his campaign. In the case of the hoodie, at the same Manchester rally where he claimed TB12’s endorsement, Trump read a letter Bill wrote him. Unlike Tom Brady, Bill took the opportunity to address the situation. He brought up that he “writes hundreds of letters and notes every month” and that he is “not a political person.” He went on to discuss his friendship with John Kerry, who he said he has also written letters to. In essence, he said, “I am indeed friends with Donald Trump, I am not endorsing him for president, I won’t even say how I voted.”
Robert Kraft gave Trump a Super Bowl ring from SBLI. He also reportedly called to congratulate the president on the disastrous tax plan overhaul. Is this acceptable to me? Generally, no. These are men, that I have grown up respecting, supporting a horrendous administration that often stands against everything I believe.
“So then, how?” I’m glad you asked.
The often ignored grey areas of friendship
Have you ever wondered why Donald Trump and Robert Kraft are friends? Remember that Kraft is a lifelong Democrat, and was a financial supporter of President Obama’s 2012 campaign. If there would be a time for Kraft to have shown his colors as a conservative, it would be in supporting Mitt Romney, ex-governor of Massachusetts. Instead, he donated more money to Obama’s campaign than any other NFL owner. So…friends with Donald Trump? In Kraft’s own words,
“When Myra [Kraft’s late wife] died, Melania and Donald came up to the funeral in our synagogue, then they came for memorial week to visit with me. Then he called me once a week for the whole year, the most depressing year of my life when I was down and out. He called me every week to see how I was doing, invited me to things, tried to lift my spirits. He was one of five or six people that were like that. I remember that.” – New York Daily News
When my father died, I was living alone in his house in Allentown Pennsylvania, a town where I knew no one. I had a few people who did for me what Trump did for Kraft. One of them? A man who owned and operated my father’s favorite bar/restaurant, where I spent at least 3 nights a week. You know who he supported in the election? Donald Trump.
When my mother died, I lived in Maine in a house in the middle of the woods for 9 months trying to get my brain and heart put back together. One of the people whose vocal or silent support was so important to me? One of my nearest and dearest friends and mentors. Also, a Trump delegate.
Would you want me to cut these people out of my life? I could never. Politics are complicated, and often the world gets condensed into a place where it feels like they define you. I do not support my friend’s vote, and I will stand in their way as an activist. But I will continue to love and support them in their lives as they did me.
“So you’re saying keep politics out of sports?“
Hell no. Sports are political and have been for a long time. The iconic nature of athletes, combined with their highly visible events allows for important political conversations and statements. Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Billie Jean King, the Taiwanese Athletes in the 1960 Olympics, the Phoenix Suns “Los Suns” jerseys, Jesse Owens, the list goes on and on and on. These men and women are heroes who used their platform to make political statements. They are important.
Michael Zagaris / Getty Images” align=”aligncenter” width=”720″][/media-credit]
Most recently we have Colin Kaepernick, whose brave and important silent protest of the National Anthem sparked widespread debate on both sides of the aisles and caused a fission in NFL fans. I’ve written before about my support of Kaepernick and the players kneeling with him. Trump seized on this movement as a way to drum up support for his base. You know who spoke out against the president’s statements? Tom Brady and Robert Kraft.
As a Progressive, I’m proud to be a Patriots fan
Why does the conversation about the Patriots’ connection to the current administration always ignore the rest of the team and their contributions to the world? Or even the official actions of the team itself? I’d like to list some of the reasons why I, as a liberal, am proud to be a fan of the New England Patriots.
Open, public support for LGBTQI issues
Have you heard of The Gay Bowl? It’s an LGBTQI flag football tournament. The New England Patriots were the first NFL team to be a public supporter. The team also signed an amicus brief sent to the Supreme Court in support of marriage equality. As NFL teams go, the New England Patriots led the league in LGBTQI support and are changing it for the better.
Martellus Bennett (TE)
During the 2016 season, he was my favorite Patriot. After going to the Green Bay Packers, the Patriots claimed him off waivers. He played for two weeks before he went onto season-ending IR. He is also a political cartoonist.
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Here's my first political cartoon. Dedicated to my brother @mosesbread72 and all of the other athletes using their platform to promote change. As I've been saying it seems as if "you can use the platform provided to promote products but not to promote change to the products of your environment." I've read a lot of the hate mail and comments sent to my brother as well as the ones sent to me. This illustration is how I feel about it all. here's to those willing to risk it all to promote change. #martyland #theimaginationagency #createdbymarty
What else does he do? He creates children’s books designed to feature positive stories with characters of color. He offers coding camps to low-income children, rather than sports camps because “You don’t have to be good at sports young man. Go upstairs and finish practicing that trombone. You don’t have to rap. You can score films. You don’t have to dunk. You can crossover and own the basketball team.” I recommend everyone support his philanthropic endeavors.
Players who protested the White House visit
Speaking of the infamous White House visit, there were plenty of players that didn’t go. (Though the remarkably dumb NYTimes photo side-by-side was reductive and not helpful.) Devin McCourty said at the time he wouldn’t be attending because “I don’t feel accepted in the White House. With the president having so many strong opinions and prejudices.” When asked whether he would attend, LeGarrette Blount responded, “I will not … It’s just some of the things — I just don’t feel welcome into that house. I’m just gonna leave it at that.”
How’s about the philanthropic darling of the 2017 season, Chris Long? His contributions this year as an Eagle are astounding. He was a Patriot for last year’s Super Bowl. “(When) my son grows up — and I believe the legacy of our president is going to be what it is — I don’t want him to say, ‘Hey Dad, why’d you go when you knew the right thing was to not go?’”
Bill Belichick has changed the lives of so many people
Do you hate him for his Trump ties? What about his incredible work with inmates, gang members, and underserved communities? The incredible work that he’s done with Jim Brown? This article does a great job outlining his many, many philanthropic accomplishments.
There are so many other great things the Patriots and their employees have done that I support wholeheartedly. People often tell me my support of the team is hypocritical to my vehemently anti-Trump administration views. For me, the Patriots were mine long before Robert Kraft, Tom Brady, or Bill Belichick showed up, and they’ll be mine long after they leave as well. At the end of the day, the Patriots are not a political entity, they are a for-profit business. The interweaving of money, the 1%, friendships, old boys clubs, and the general sphere that NFL owners run in, complicate the issues. Every single team has their pros and cons, you can make a case for or against every single team in every single league.
When the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2016, there were notable Obama White House visit absences. As we talk about the smiles on Belichick and Kraft’s faces as they present Trump with a Jersey, remember this photo.
[media-credit name=”Pete Souza / White House Photographer” align=”aligncenter” width=”1400″][/media-credit]
Like the first photo shouldn’t solidify the Patriots as “Trump’s Team”, the latter shouldn’t make the Patriots a liberal team, either. No matter which NFL franchise wins the Super Bowl, there are going to be absences and political statements. The Patriots are no exception.
My support of this team is long-established
I love football, and I love the New England Patriots. Currently, that includes complicated feelings around their star quarterback, head coach, and owner.
I will continue to root for the Patriots loud and proud. That includes Bill, Bob, and Tom. Brady’s no longer a hero of mine, he’s now just the extremely talented quarterback for the team I love. I’ve said “never count out Tom Brady and the Patriots” so many times in my life (including recently) I might as well have it tattooed on my body. I’d happily meet any of the three of them, but I wouldn’t introduce myself as a huge fan of theirs. I’m a huge fan of the Patriots. So on Super Bowl Sunday I will be cheering for the Pats to bring home another Lombardi. I’ll just be wearing a Corey Dillon jersey to do so.