Bill Maher is the host of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. Though best known for his political commentary, Maher is also a minority owner of the New York Mets. He connected with SI.com to discuss the intersection between politics and sports.
Bill Maher is best known for his biting political commentary, where he pulls no punches on Republicans or Democrats.
He is also a part-owner of the New York Mets, as well as a disgruntled fan of commissioner Roger Goodell’s NFL.
“I would like to say something to the Commissioner,” said Maher. “You are very close to losing a lifetime football fan.”
Maher, who discussed the linkage between professional football and brain trauma with Bob Costas this past fall on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, noted that pro football sits at a dangerous crossroads.
“Sometimes you can’t even watch because it’s too painful to see people being crunched,” said Maher. “It is too violent. A lot of the games suck now because too many players are hurt. The game is never good unless both teams have a great quarterback. So when Aaron Rodgers goes down or Andrew Luck is out, the number of games you want to watch is diminished.”
In addition to the safety of players, Maher noted that football’s problems also exist in-game.
“It’s this instant reply bullsh--,” said Maher. “A guy makes an incredible catch and then the officials watch it like it’s the Zapruder film for five minutes, and then they take the catch away from him because, at the last second, the ball moved a quarter of an inch out of his hand. This is for the Commissioner: You’re ruining the game, and you’re going to lose a fan.”
The NFL has seemingly done everything it could to turn off fans to the most popular game in the world, particularly in its serious lapses of judgment when dealing light suspensions to players arrested of domestic abuse. Although the league suspended Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott for six games this past season after reportedly assaulting an ex-girlfriend on five different occasions, NFL owners seemed far more interested in “Deflategate” than disciplining men who beat their significant others.
“That’s a real issue, but the NFL is worried about the air in the ball,” said Maher. “That’s how ridiculous it is. I’m no Patriots or Tom Brady fan, but Deflategate was ridiculous. Tom Brady is who he is not because of the amount of air in the ball, but because he just happens to be the greatest of all-time. I hate to admit it, but it’s true.”
The 61-year-old Maher, whose Real Time returns to HBO tonight, conceded Brady’s greatness while still tweaking the five-time Super Bowl champion.
“When my New York Giants, the team I have been watching my whole life, starting when I was on my father’s knee, beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl, not once, but twice, that was kind of sweet,” said Maher. “And before last year’s Super Bowl, I pretended to be a giant Atlanta Falcons fan just because Brady, Bill Belichick, and also Patriots owner Bob Kraft were all Trump supporters.”
Multiple athletes and coaches, most notably Brady and Belichick of the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots, advocate and donate to Trump privately while the president publicly champions their support. Maher was asked about the current political climate in sports, where the likes of Brady and Belichick are hesitant to publicly support the man seated in the nation’s highest office.
“The reason Brady and Belichick are not saying anything publicly is because, like so many of the Trump voters, they have buyer’s remorse,” explained Maher. “One of the really positive things we can look forward to this year is that in the elections that took place last year where the Democrats did well, like in Virginia and New Jersey, the exit polls showed something really interesting and really positive. Trump really did badly with white suburban men. That’s exactly who Brady and Belichick are. They’re not the hardcore Trump fan and they’re not racist.
“Brady and Belichick are guys who don’t pay much attention to politics who just have this vague idea that we need to get our country back. ‘Oh, that sounds good, make America great again, get it back,’ as if it had ever gone anywhere. So they thought they would give a chance to this new sort of guy, because ‘it’s not working in Washington,’ so they wanted to give a businessman a shot–‘what a great idea, have a businessman run the government’–as president. Then they saw the first year. They got up to about Charlottesville, and they went, ‘Oh, f---.’
Reporters all across New England can agree with Maher’s next point: it is especially difficult to pry personal information from Bill Belichick.
“Belichick, I don’t know, he’s too tightlipped, but I would guess he and Brady are both in the same camp and they’ve realized, ‘Trump is nuts, he’s an egomaniac, he’s a liar, and this is not working out,’” said Maher. “Certainly Brady has buyer’s remorse.”
Maher’s Real Time has aired since 2003, when Brady was 25 and only a one-time Super Bowl champ, and kicks off its sixteenth season later tonight.
Despite a culture and climate of heightened sensitivity, Maher’s voice remains as robust as ever. Real Time has also evolved considerably over the past 15 years and seasons, and Maher noted that creating and staying true to a format in which he can stand up for his beliefs and convictions is among his proudest achievements in television.
“Staying on is what I’m proudest of, and not even just staying on HBO,” said Maher. “I include the nine years of Politically Incorrect as the forerunner of Real Time. For those who have been around for both shows, it’s a continuum for us. Real Time evolved, but it’s the same thing: me, saying what I think, and trying to be funny about it. Politically Incorrect, back when it went on the air in 1993, was a fairly new concept.
In the early 1990’s, Maher believed there was too much political correctness, which he defines as the elevation of sensitivity over truth, so he aimed to counter that with his first show, Politically Incorrect.
“Sensitivity is important, but it’s not more important than truth,” said Maher. “Now, look where we are in 2018, it’s so much worse than it was in 1993. It’s so much harder to say what you think. Look what happened at the Golden Globes. None of the men spoke up. Why? They were afraid to say anything because we are in a place where we’re all so afraid that, no matter what was said, it would be wrong.
“Look what happened to Matt Damon. He just said something about how we can all agree that a pat on the butt is different than rape. ‘No, we can’t, Matt Damon!’ and people lambasted him. People are so afraid to speak, so whatever I was doing in 1993 in killing political correction plainly did not work. I feel people do need a voice not afraid to speak up. We’re in an atmosphere that is just outrageously stultifying.”
Maher certainly has his critics, but his work is compelling primarily because of his passion and knowledge.
“This show is the real sh--,” said Maher. “Everybody else only plays to their audience. Audiences are very intimidating to people, you don’t want to say something that the audience is not going to like. Well, I do say things that my audience doesn’t like, and I certainly say things, all the time, that conservatives don’t like, but that’s an honest broker. The liberals are far from perfect, and a lot of the reason why Trump is in the White House has to do with their mistakes. The Democratic brand is so toxic in about half the country that an abused child molester almost won in Alabama. I play it even, I never pull a punch, even if it’s unpopular, and it’s funny. In an age of Trump, people want someone really mean to discuss the president. I think we do that better than anybody. I mean, Trump did sue me. We’ve hit a nerve at some point. People want someone to take the measure of this man and give it back equally.”
Maher purchased a minority share of the New York Mets in 2012, and the opportunity to invest in the franchise was alluring for two reasons. First, Maher is a lifelong Mets fans, and he also strongly resented George Steinbrenner’s New York Yankees.
“I hated George Steinbrenner–who, by the way, is exactly the sports version of Donald Trump, they are doppelgangers–and I came to hate him even more as he went out and bought the best players everywhere,” said Maher. “That broke my heart. I grew up in northern New Jersey, my father worked in New York his whole life, and New York TV was what we saw when I was growing up. It was ingrained to root for all the New York teams. I never understood this ‘picking’ between either being a Giants or a Jets fan. No, I’m both. Now it’s better, we have twice the chance of getting in the playoffs. Same thing with baseball, Yankees and Mets.
“I wore a Mickey Mantle uniform when I was seven-years-old, even in the summer, which was flannel and my mother would make fun of me because I wouldn’t take it off. I got to be an adult, and I didn’t like what the Yankees were, so a long time ago I got off the Yankee train. But I always loved the Mets, they were lovable from the very beginning.”
Maher shared that there is no other team in which he would have invested, so he was grateful that the opportunity to buy in occurred with the Mets.
“People make fun of the 120 losses in 1962, but the Mets were pretty successful,” said Maher. “They won it only seven years later in 1969. I was 13 when they won and it was a pretty big deal. I’ve been a lifelong Mets fan, and it was pretty fortunate that the very rare event of a sports team selling a big chunk of itself to a few minority investors, which doesn’t come around a lot, happened. It was a unique situation, and it happened to be the only team I would want to be a minority owner of.”
With the intersection of sports and politics so prevalent in today’s society, Maher noted that baseball shares some similarities with running for office. Just because you are ahead in the race does not guarantee victory.
“Maybe it’s just a chip in our brain, but when you’re a Mets fan, it goes very deep,” said Maher. “When they’re disappointing, like the last two years when they were decimated by injuries, especially after making the Series in 2015. We thought we had this amazing pitching staff, and it just didn’t work out that way. All you can do is stick with your guys, and that’s why we love baseball. Hope springs eternal.”