LNew England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has become this generation’s E.F. Hutton.
Approximately half of you reading this (or maybe less) understood that analogy. The other half are right now asking yourselves ‘Who is E.F. Hutton?’
The former investment firm was best known for its colorful TV commercials in the 1970s and 1980s. These ads were based on the phrase, “When E. F. Hutton talks, people listen,” which usually involved a young professional remarking at a dinner party that his broker was E.F. Hutton. The very mention of this name caused the moderately loud party to stop all conversation to listen to him. In short, no one wanted to miss even one word of what E.F. Hutton had to say.
Fast forward to 2018. There is still one person that can stop the presses (pun intended) with each simple statement. While not for financial gain (at least, for the most part), pretty much everyone in the ‘media’ world hangs on Tom Brady’s every word. In addition to Patriots fans, the team’s beat writers, social media, and even mainstream media seem to halt all activity and cup their ear when the reigning NFL MVP speaks.
Typically quiet and somewhat reclusive in his relationship with the media, Brady has been a bit more vocal as of late. From his social media docuseries, “Tom vs. Time”, to making appearances late night talk shows, the Pats quarterback has seemed to open up about his intentions and feelings more than he has in the past. It has certainly led to a greater amount of attention and scrutiny being paid to his every word.
However, are we all listening just a bit too closely? Or, perhaps are we listening with a bit too critical of an ear? To be fair, the answer is complicated.
During an appearance Monday at the Milken Institute Global Conference in California, Brady confirmed his plans to play in 2018 and repeated his goal to extend his career into his mid-40s. In an hour-long conversation with moderator Jim Gray, he went on to detail his goals, along with his approach to the 2018 season and his relationship with the team and his head coach. In what should not come as a surprise, Brady’s responses created quite the media firestorm.
As one of his primary points of business, Brady spoke as to why he’s taking a different approach this offseason in staying away from the team’s voluntary offseason program.
“Part of this offseason for me is certainly about still preparing for what’s ahead in my next journey, my next mountain to climb with this group of teammates, but it’s also [acknowledging] that a lot of people are getting the short end of the stick in my life — certainly my wife and my kids.”
“Football is year-round for me. It’s a lot of thought, a lot of energy and emotion put into it, but I need to invest in them, too. My kids are 10, 8 and 5. They’re not getting younger, so I need to take time so I can be available to them, too. … I’ve really spent the last two or three months doing those things, and I think I’m really trying to fill my tank up so that when I do go back, I can go back and I think I’ll actually be, in my mind, a better player, a better teammate, because I’ll be really rejuvenated.”
Throughout the past couple of months, it had been speculated that Brady’s absence might be in protest of last season’s banning of his personal fitness guru Alex Guerrero from team activities. Brady’s statement of wanting to spend time with his family being the reason for his absence seemed to put those rumors to rest. However, the speculation continues. It’s not what Brady said. It’s what he didn’t say.
As for why he plans to keep playing, Brady said, “I have personal goals. I want to keep playing. I’ve said for a long time I want to play to my mid-40s. I was told three years when I was 36-37, ‘You can’t keep playing; no one wins Super Bowls [at that age].’ It’s a great challenge for me. I think I’ve been challenged my whole life. I feel like I can do it.”
Brady went on to note how his routine has evolved over time. As a result, he feels that he can keep playing because he loves the game, is willing to make the commitment, and believes in his plan to extend his career at a record pace.
“I have a great system in place that works well for me in order to keep me performing at my highest level,” he said, referring to the TB12 Training Method which he called “part of the second career of my life.”
Once again, Brady’s statements create more questions than answers. This is ironic, as his answers seem to be quite straightforward. As he previously stated, Brady wants to play into his mid-40s. However, the seed of doubt was planted in the minds of Patriots Nation when he released the final installment of his docu-series “Tom vs. Time” this past March. Brady curiously ended the series by open-endedly questioning his motive to continue playing. It should be noted that the rigors of the 2017 season, along with the bitter taste of a Super Bowl LII loss we’re still very much fresh at the time that Brady made this statement. Still, the tendency to dwell on his cryptic uncertainty seems to overshadow his more recent and more direct statements.
“I plead the fifth”
In what would be the most prominent sound byte in the interview, Brady ‘pled the fifth’ when asked if he felt appreciated by the team. Fueled by rampant media coverage, the collective eyebrows of Patriots Nation raised.
Could the Patriots legendary signal-caller be unhappy in Foxboro? Here were Brady’s own words on the subject.
When asked if he was happy, Brady said, “I have my moments.”
Asked if he is happy with the people he works with and for, Brady said, “Yeah. I would say absolutely. And in general, I’m a very happy person. I’m a very positive person. It’s just my personality, I always look at things as the glass is half full. I think there are different times; when you’ve been on the same team for a long time, you have relationships for a long time, they ebb and flow like every relationship. But there are no people I’d rather play for or be committed to than the team I’ve been with for a long time, and really the fans and the community.”
Lastly, when asked if he feels appreciated by coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft and if they have the appropriate gratitude for what he has achieved, Brady said, “I plead the fifth!”
After a bit of laughter from the crowd, he continued on by saying:
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“Man, that is a tough question. I think everybody, in general, wants to be appreciated more in their professional life, but there’s a lot of people that appreciate me way more than I ever thought was possible as part of my life. You have different influences in your life and the people I work with, they’re trying to get the best out of me. So they’re trying to treat me in the way they feel is going to get the best out of me, and I’ve got to get the best out of myself.”
“I think what I’m learning, as you get older, it comes from within — the joy, the happiness, those things come from inside. To seek that from others, to seek that from outside influences, people you work with, people that cheer against you or cheer with you, I feel like it comes from within for me. So I’m trying to build up what’s within me so that I can be the best for me, so that I can be the best for other people. That’s part of growing. I’m learning these things, too.”
There is a definite level of context to Brady’s comments. Of course, the scrutiny and speculation with which they have been reported have led the ‘plead the fifth’ sound byte to spread virally across the media landscape. The length with which he held each syllable of the phrase has been analyzed with the complexity of a cryptex. The hidden meanings sought out like the target of an archeological dig. To be fair, it is an uncharacteristic statement for Brady to make. However, the entirety of his comments shows that Brady is more content than not in Patriot blue.
“He’s the best for me”
When asked about his connection to head coach Bill Belichick, he said, “We’ve had a great relationship, a very respectful relationship for a long time. I feel like he’s the best coach in the history of the NFL. He has a management style [with] players, and he would say, ‘Look, I’m not the easiest coach to play for.’ I agree. He’s not the easiest coach to play for.”
“But he’s the best for me. I think what he’s proven is that whatever talent he has, he maximizes his talent. What more could you ask of a coach than that? That’s what I want as a player. … He’s been an incredible coach, he’s been an incredible mentor to me. He’s taught me so much football. To be a 22-year-old kid and come and learn from him, I wouldn’t be sitting here without his coaching. I wouldn’t have the success without how incredibly talented he was, along with a lot of the other coaches, a lot of the other players, a lot of the other people in the organization. Because it takes everybody to do it.”
Of all the statements made by Brady on Monday, this seems to be the most telling. It’s no secret that there has been some tension between the Patriots legendary quarterback and their revered head coach. However, the degree to which that tension will affect the upcoming season has been the source of much speculation.
In an ESPN report published by Seth Wickersham in January, the end of the Patriots dynasty seemed all but inevitable. Belichick’s resentment of having to part with former Pats quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo could be rivaled only by Brady’s contempt for his trainer being banished from the Pats locker room. If this was to be believed, the Patriots would soon witness the departure of their quarterback, their head coach, or at the worst, both.
However, both Belichick and Brady have consistently described their relationship as ‘good.’ Their direct comments do little to fuel any rumors of discontent. Yet, the underlying context of their words has led to numerous opinions on the degree of disdain which the two have for each other. Brady and Belichick are not best friends. They have never been. They probably never will be. However, there remains a great amount of respect between the two. Based on Brady’s response on Monday, it does not appear that any respect has waned.
“When Tom Brady Talks…”
Like E.F. Hutton, everyone listens when Tom Brady speaks. Those in the sports media world remain quite active while following the latest news surrounding the Patriots star quarterback. There is little argument that the aura surrounding the Patriots, Belichick and Brady has been a bit different this offseason. As is the job of all media members, each sports journalist brings the story to the public to the best of his/her ability. This story is no different. Whether it be beat reporters, regional journalists, or national personalities, each has reported based on the facts and information provided to them by sources that are trusted to be credible. However, when the lines between factual reporting and sensationalized scrutiny become blurred, a disservice is done to all involved. Sometimes, a literal (as opposed to a contextual) interpretation need not be so taboo in the sports media landscape. In short, let the words tell the story.
In Brady’s case, and as previously stated, it is complicated. Information regarding Tom Brady is always newsworthy. However, Brady has earned the right for his words to be the final say on an issue. If he states that his relationship with his head coach is ‘fine,” perhaps it might be prudent to accept that it IS fine? That’s not lazy journalism. After all, the question is valid and should be asked. However, the answer can be taken at face value without an evaluation on the infliction of his voice, or the counting of the seconds in between his words. Even E.F. Hutton did not endure that type of scrutiny.
Amidst a sea of conjecture, Tom Brady will be speaking loudly and clearly throughout the 2018 season. For the most part, that speaking will not be done in front of a microphone. It will be done on the field. It will be done through action. As usual, number 12 is looking to lead by example. How do we know that? It’s simple. He said so on Monday:
“What I want to do in the meantime is I want to inspire people through my action. Not tell them what to do, but just show it.”
For Patriots Nation, their quarterback is Tom Brady…and Tom Brady says…
(shhhhhh….let’s hear what the man has to say.)
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the NFL. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC