After cementing his place as one of the greatest sports stars of all time with his seventh Super Bowl ring, one question that has almost nothing to do with football has returned to the headlines: How does Tom Brady feel about Donald Trump?
The Buccaneers quarterback famously – or infamously – displayed a Make America Great Again cap in his locker back in 2015, when Trump was still running for president. When asked whether he thought Trump could win the election, Brady replied, “I hope so. That would be great”.
Since then, however, the athlete has chosen to keep quiet about his politics, leaving some room for doubt about what those comments meant. He’s been photographed golfing with Trump in the past, and Trump aide Hope Hicks once said the two men “have a great friendship and have for many years”. So was Brady really endorsing Trump as a candidate for office, or merely supporting his friend? He won’t say.
It’s that ambiguity that infuriates USA Today columnist Nancy Armour, whose latest op-ed has sparked a whole new corollary of controversy.
“Brady’s ability to enter and exit the debate at his choosing, to shield himself from accountability, is the height of white privilege,” she writes. According to Armour, only white celebrities are afforded such a generous benefit of the doubt when it comes to political advocacy. Colin Kaepernick, she points out, is still being “blackballed” for speaking out against police brutality.
During his first campaign for the White House the ex-president said that he asked the quarterback to not endorse him because of the impact it may have on his public image.
Their relationship goes back to 2002, when Brady flew out to Indian to judge the 2002 Miss USA pageant.
And Brady was keen to stay out of politics, telling Boston radio station WEEI, that he did not want to discuss Mr Trump's political ambitions.
“Can I just stay out of this debate? Donald is a good friend of mine,” said Brady.
“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.
"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. I think it’s pretty remarkable what he’s achieved in his life.
"You’re going from business, kind of an incredible businessman and then a TV star, and then getting into politics. It’s three different career paths. I think that is pretty remarkable.”
But Brady was a surprise no-show when the New England Patriots visited the White House to meet Mr Trump following their 2017 Super bowl victory.
Instead he issued a statement thanking Mr Trump for hosting the celebration but explaining that he was attending to "some personal family matters."
Shannon Sharpe drew a similar analogy to Ms Armour's on his sports commentary show, Undisputed.
“LeBron James can never say – a prominent Black athlete can never say – 'Minister Farrakhan is just my friend,’” Sharpe said, referring to Louis Farrakhan, the antisemitic Nation of Islam leader. “They’d try to cancel anybody with the just mere mention of Mr. Farrakhan’s name.”
Others have rushed to the former Patriot’s defence.
“Why does a professional football player need to answer to the sports press for his political preferences?” Fox News anchor Brit Hume asked on Twitter.
To Armour and Sharpe’s accusations, Brady has responded with more ambiguity.
“I’m not sure how to respond to hypothetical questions like that,” he toldUSA Today. “I hope everyone can ... we’re in this position, like I am, to try to be the best I can be every day as an athlete, as a player, as a person in my community for my team and so forth. So … yeah. Not sure what else.”
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