America at Large: Tom Brady drops ball with support for toxic Trump
NFL icon in minority as star athletes including Charles Barkley lambast Republican
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady chats with Donald Trump. Photograph: Donna Connor/WireImage
Even in this most shrill and casually offensive American presidential election campaign, arguably the most perplexing statement of all came from an NFL quarterback. “He always gives me a call on different types of motivational speeches and at different times,” said the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady of his friendship with Donald Trump.
Just when you think you’ve heard it all. Four-time Super Bowl champion, husband of the supermodel Gisele (by her first name shall ye know her), and one of the most envied men in America admits to receiving psychological booster shots from a blowhard with multiple, spectacular bankruptcies who wants to ban Muslims from entering the country.
Three months have passed since reporters crowded around Brady’s locker at Foxboro first noticed a strategically placed baseball cap bearing Trump’s trademark “Make America Great Again” slogan, and sought clarification about his relationship with the most radioactive candidate in recent memory. Turned out the hat had been passed on to him by the Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft and its place of prominence was no accident. Apparently, the pair bonded back in 2002 when Trump invited Brady to be a judge at his Miss USA beauty pageant.
“He’s been a long-time friend of mine, so we played a lot of golf over the years,” said Brady. “We’ve had a lot of fun together. We’ll see what turns out with him as a politician, but he’s certainly a great friend. Nobody supports their friends like Tom Brady or Donald Trump.”
It may not have been an out-and-out political endorsement and Brady has tried to downplay it since but it was enough for Trump to work with. “Tom Brady said Trump’s the greatest,” declared Trump, slightly distorting the quote. “He says it to anyone who asks him.”
He has wrung this imprimatur for every plausible drop of positive publicity, even crediting the celebrity association with a surge in his Massachusetts poll numbers soon after. Perhaps not since Michael Jordan quarter of a century ago has an icon in his pomp been as wildly impolitic as this.
“Republicans buy sneakers too,” said Jordan, explaining his refusal to endorse Harvey Gantt, an African-American Democrat running against Senator Jesse Helms, an unapologetic racist. If that comment has hung over the fabled number 23 ever since, Brady isn’t the only high-profile sporting figure willing to talk up Trump.
“Donald will get my vote,” said Dana White, UFC president. “You will never hear me say a negative word about Donald Trump.”
While Herschel Walker, an NFL star of the 1980s, has also lent his weight to what used to be regarded as a long shot bid for the White House, this unlikely trio of political bedfellows are dwarfed by the number of athletes lining up on the other side of the aisle. Last weekend, the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick put his Instagram account to particularly good use. Having posted a series of images showing how xenophobia like Trump’s has inflicted so much damage throughout America’s history, he wrote: “Racism and discrimination isn’t okay. We are all human beings.”
Others have used their soap boxes too. “He started out this summer by insulting Hispanics,” said Charles Barkley, a contemporary of Jordan’s and the face of the NBA on television these days. “To lump all Hispanics together, that was insulting. Then you’ve got these losers who love that because they’re afraid to look in the mirror and say why their lives suck. They have to blame other people. Your life sucks for a reason – because of you, not because of Hispanics. Now to lump all Muslims together, that’s even more insulting,”
So many athletes and non-athletes are outraged because Trump’s demagoguery and sectarianism do not exist in a vacuum. A couple of weeks ago, four Sikhs were refused entry to a San Diego Chargers’ NFL game because of their turbans. As soon as they arrived at Qualcomm Stadium, somebody reported them for “acting suspiciously” and a bomb-sniffing dog was brought out to check their car. Even though they finally managed to gain entry, that anecdote captures the atmosphere of ignorance and paranoia being both simultaneously driven and exploited by Trump.
“Obama said that Muslims are our sporting heroes,” said Trump, after the president mentioned that many star athletes are followers of Islam. “What sport is he talking about and who?”
Even by his own pitifully low standards, this was especially ludicrous given there are plenty of Muslims currently playing in the NBA and NFL. Not to mention either that he was subsequently and eloquently called out on this score by Muhammad Ali (Trump hosted a huge 44th birthday bash for the boxer in Atlantic City in 1986) and Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
Two of the greatest American heroes who embraced Islam at great professional cost at the height of their sporting fame, their words carry a lot more weight than those of the bloviator.
“While Trump is not slaughtering innocent people, he is exploiting such acts of violence to create terror here to coerce support,” said Abdul Jabbar. “Trump’s irresponsible, inflammatory rhetoric and deliberate propagation of misinformation have created a frightened and hostile atmosphere that could embolden people to violence. He’s the swaggering guy in old Westerns buying drinks for everyone in the saloon while whipping them up for a lynching.”
Or, as the hat in Tom Brady’s locker states, he’s the swaggering guy who will make America great again.