By Bailey Knecht, sports columnist
I wrote this column knowing that it comes off as a bit of a post-Super Bowl buzzkill, but it seems like a good time to air some grievances I have with high-profile athletes. A few weeks ago, when Tom Brady was asked about President Donald J. Trump’s controversial travel ban, the New England Patriots’ star quarterback avoided the question by responding, “What’s going on in the world? I haven’t paid much attention. I’m just a positive person.”
Brady was spotted with a “Make America Great Again” hat in 2015 and has admitted that he considers Trump a friend, so naturally reporters wanted his opinion on the president’s policies—yet Brady refused to provide them with anything substantial. Athletes are entitled to their own political opinions and although I don’t agree with Brady’s political leanings, I would have more respect for him if he actually defended his beliefs instead of spinelessly brushing off the questions. He shouldn’t be required to talk about his politics constantly, but as a public figure supporting Trump—a president with such extreme and divisive policies—Brady should be expected to address his stance.
Athletes and coaches who use sports as a shield against the real world come across as ignorant and entitled. Most of the changes that Trump makes during his presidency are unlikely to directly affect Brady, so by emphasizing a focus on football, he demonstrated his privilege as a wealthy, white male who can cruise through Trump’s America stress-free. Even though the travel ban doesn’t impact him personally, I have a hard time believing that Brady was so focused on the Super Bowl that he was unaware of an issue that monumental. And if he was indeed unaware, then maybe it’s time for him to adjust his priorities a bit and spend some of that multimillion-dollar salary on a newspaper subscription.
I felt similarly frustrated when Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James was hesitant to speak on the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy shot and killed by police in 2015. It was a high-profile case in James’s home state of Ohio, so, again, I have a hard time believing he didn’t know much about it either.
“To be honest, I haven’t really been on top of this issue, so it’s hard for me to comment,” James said when asked about Rice. “I understand that any lives that [are] lost, what we want more than anything is prayer and the best for the family, for anyone. But for me to comment on the situation, I don’t have enough knowledge about it.”
James has long been an outspoken advocate against police brutality and gun violence, but in that moment, James had a platform to say something meaningful, and he missed the opportunity.
I don’t expect athletes to know everything there is to know about the world, but I believe that they should all be willing to speak publicly about important, genuinely newsworthy issues from time to time. A number of NBA and NFL players have spoken about police brutality against of people of color, while the U.S. women’s soccer team has spoken up in the fight for gender equality. Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest against police killings of black people brought waves of criticism, but at least he took a stance and stuck with it.
The era of separation between sports and politics is over. When it comes to off-the-field topics, it’s time for Brady to speak up about something not football-related. Granted, this is probably easier said than done—I can freely state my political opinions in public without having to worry about the backlash that celebrities do.
But if Kaepernick and other athletes can do it, why can’t Brady? Athletes are in positions of fame and power, and if they get to enjoy the benefits, then they should have to deal with the downside of answering tough questions as well.
Brady may be a hero on the field, but he’s not some god or saint that’s above everybody else, like New Englanders make him out to be. When Brady feigned innocence after the travel ban was mentioned, I had to ask myself—is he really that shallow? Or is he refusing to reveal what’s underneath the saccharine, “golden boy” persona he has worked to create?
Photo courtesy Keith Allison, Creative Commons