Super Bowl media day — which is now media night, thanks to the NFL and ESPN’s insatiable thirst for ratings — is usually the epitome of empty platitudes and frivolity. Media members sometimes dress in costume; players are asked 100 times whether they’re excited to make it to the biggest stage in sports; there’s usually a lot of talk about facial hair.
But the stakes were much higher for Monday night’s edition. On Friday evening, President Donald Trump enacted a Muslim ban — an executive order indefinitely suspending immigration for Syrian refugees into the United States, and delaying immigration into the United States from seven majority-Muslim countries. Media night was the first time since the ban was enacted that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the New England Patriots coach and quarterback who are “great friends” of Trump, were made available to the national media.
What would Brady and Belichick have to say about the ban, which is being praised by white nationalists and ISIS alike; a ban that has instantly torn apart families and left women and children trapped in airports without food; a ban that has been deemed unconstitutional by lawyers and government officials all over the country?
Well, as it turns out, absolutely nothing.
“I’m focused on getting my team ready to play the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday night,” Belichick said after being asked about the President. “That’s where all my attention is.”
“I’m not talking politics at all,” Brady told reporters after dodging a couple of Trump questions. “Why? Because I just want to focus on the positive aspect of this game and my teammates.”
Later, he added, “I’m just a positive person, I want the best for everyone.”
Thank you to Tom Brady, Coach Ditka, Coach Bobby Knight and all of the many champions that have been so supportive!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 16, 2015
Unfortunately for Brady and Belichick, distancing themselves from Trump’s actions is not as simple as a “no comment.” From the beginning of Trump’s Presidential campaign, well before it was clear he was going to be the Republican nominee, much less the actual leader of the free world, the New England duo — and their owner, Robert Kraft — tacitly endorsed Trump by repeatedly allowing him to use their friendship and immense popularity in New England as political capital. Never once have Brady and Belichick ever spoken out against Trump; in fact, throughout his divisive campaign, they just kept leaning back on the concept of “friendship,” as if that absolved them from everything.
This all started in the fall of 2015 when reporters spotted a “Make America Great Again” hat prominently displayed in Brady’s locker. Now, Brady has been the face of the NFL for over 15 years; he knows how the media works, and couldn’t have been surprised when he was asked about it.
“I hope so. That would be great,” Brady told reporters at the time when asked whether he wanted Trump to be President. “There’d be a putting green on the White House lawn. I know that.”
Though Brady tried to shy away from the fact that he was officially endorsing Trump, he kept showing his support for his friend despite the onslaught of controversy caused by his campaign.
“Donald is a good friend of mine. I have known him for a long time. I support all my friends. That is what I have to say. He’s a good friend of mine. He’s always been so supportive of me,” Brady said after Trump first floated his plan for a Muslim ban during his campaign. “For the last 15 years, since I judged a beauty pageant for him, which was one of the very first things that I did that I thought was really cool that came along with winning the Super Bowl. He’s always invited me to play golf and I’ve always enjoyed his company. I support all my friends in everything they do.”
Heading to Boston to see another huge crowd! My friend Tom Brady is a great competitor and golf partner. https://t.co/lWpbffq5bp
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 16, 2015
Trump, of course, took these words and ran with them. He regularly invoked Brady’s friendship at campaign rallies and on social media. The failed steak salesman even told the New York Times that Brady’s support played a significant role in his success in Massachusetts during the GOP Primary.
“Honestly, in that part of the world, a reference like Tom Brady saying Trump’s the biggest winner, Trump is a friend of mine, that makes an incredible difference,” Trump said. “Tom Brady is a great friend of mine. He’s a winner and he likes winners. He was very helpful to us in Massachusetts on Tuesday.”
Trump continued to tout Brady’s support right up until the final day of the campaign. The night before the election, Trump was in a rally in New Hampshire bragging about a call from Brady wishing him good luck in the election and saying he had voted for him.
That night, Trump also read aloud a letter he had received from Belichick.
“Congratulations on a tremendous campaign,” Trump read aloud from the letter, which Belichick later confirmed he did in fact send. “You have dealt with an unbelievable slanted and negative media, and have come out beautifully — beautifully. You’ve proved to be the ultimate competitor and fighter. Your leadership is amazing. I have always had tremendous respect for you, but the toughness and perseverance you have displayed over the past year is remarkable. Hopefully tomorrow’s election results will give the opportunity to make America great again. Best wishes for great results tomorrow.”
Just to hammer things home, Trump made sure the New England voters got the message.
“By the way, is there a better reference than Tom Brady and Bill Belichick?” he said. “I don’t think so.”
As Dave Zirin wrote for The Nation, Trump has used his friendships with Brady and Belichick as “a tool of legitimization.”
So, look, it’s not like people are turning to Brady and Belichick to answer for Trump just because they’re potentially the greatest coach and quarterback of all time; and it’s not that they’re being questioned about the Muslim ban because they once played golf with Trump or were on friendly terms with him. Trump obsessively used Brady and Belichick’s friendship and support as a pawn to win favor with voters, and throughout the campaign, Brady and Belichick consistently allowed, even encouraged, that practice.
SB Nation’s Charlotte Wilder wrote that this isn’t just a connection that the media and general fans are grappling with — many Patriots fans in liberal Massachusettes are struggling with Brady and Belichick’s relationship with Trump as well.
“[In]refusing to publicly disavow Trump’s actions, Brady is giving tacit endorsement to both Trump and the chaos he has created,” Nancy Armour wrote for USA Today.
"@therealtommydel Trump for President! Tom Brady as running mate?"
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2015
“Chaos” is perhaps too tame of a term for what’s happened in the 10 days since Trump took up shop in the Oval Office. In addition to the havoc the Muslim ban has caused, on the very night that Brady and Belichick were incredulously dodging Trump questions, Sally Yates, the acting Attorney General, made waves when she said that she would not defend Trump’s Muslim ban in the courts because of its unconstitutionality.
Then, in a chilling memo that cemented the fall-in-line-or-else tone of Trump’s leadership style, Trump fired Yates effective immediately.
Unfortunately for Brady and the rest of us, Trump’s presidency comes with a lot more than just a putting green on the White House lawn.
What we’re seeing happening in Washington D.C. right now is unprecedented, unlawful, and down-right terrifying. And the more Brady and Belichick say “no comment” or hide behind their friendship with the failed businessman, the more what is happening in the White House becomes as much a part of their legacy as AFC Championships and Super Bowl rings.