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Why Tom Brady's friendship with Donald Trump is the public's business

Of all people, Tom Brady should understand that for athletes of his stature, every public display of support—especially for a politician like Donald Trump—is fair game.

Tom Brady, responding to a question about his vague friendship with President Donald Trump Monday, asked one of his own to WEEI hosts Kirk and Callahan: “Why does everybody make such a big deal? I don’t understand it.”

On the surface, it makes sense. The fact that we have such an intense obsession with a football player’s celebrity friends feels at times asinine. Except we’re not talking about any pedestrian friendship—this is a divisive incoming president who continues to strategically use his relationship with the Patriots, and Brady in particular, as an asset. When Trump, at his pre-Inauguration Day dinner last Thursday, immediately pivoted from thanking his family to telling attendee Robert Kraft, “Your friend Tom just called, he feels good. He called to congratulate us, he feels good,” that was news that transcended sports. When Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway appeared on national television and said, “President Trump is just so grateful that friends like Tom Brady are loyal and can ignore the shrapnel, the verbal shrapnel,” hell no, we’re not just going to move on and start dissecting the offensive line.

Brady, of all people, should understand this dynamic.

At some point in history, Brady was just a football player—a stunningly gifted, Super Bowl ring-clad, future Hall of Fame football player, but still just a football player. But as Brady’s celebrity grew, he became more than that; he morphed into a superhero named TB12 who doubles as a taste-maker extraordinaire. When not shredding defenses, Brady is telling you to buy a $200 cookbook to learn his “nutritional philosophies”, wear unflattering slippers to be comfortable like him, buy an uber expensive mattress, along with complementary pajamas to help you “recover” while sleeping like him. Unlike Peyton Manning, the most famous person willing to sell weirdly orange-hued pizza with a straight face, or Cam Newton, who fills an expendable role when it comes to hawking yogurt, Brady is deeply intertwined with his brands. He is the brand.

So when Brady knowingly likes things, and people, we pay attention. Typically Brady’s preferences are either wildly loved or mocked. The “Make America Great Again” hat seen hanging in his locker in September 2015 certainly falls among the latter. Some of the products he pushes are more profitable than others. Either way, they become, by design, part of our conversation once TB12 is wrapped around them. So when Brady openly promotes his support of the man who just inspired over three million viscerally angry people around the world to protest his presidency, that matters.

Brady has had every opportunity to clarify his friendship with Trump and has mostly declined. Are they just golf buddies? Does he believe in Trump’s policies? Did he vote for Trump? Did he vote at all? Brady’s opaqueness only fuels the discussion.

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Beyond being his own brand, Brady is the face of a league that has been archaic in its approach to enacting policies respectful to women. The notion that Brady might accept some of Trump’s gender-damning actions (including that thing that started a feline-inspired hat industry) is disheartening. Hopefully, this is not the case. Brady is intelligent and worldly, and in the same interview Monday he hinted at disagreeing with Trump. “I don’t want to get into it, but if you know someone it doesn’t mean you agree with everything they say or they do,” Brady said.

What don’t you agree with? If Brady used his monstrous platform to answer those pressing questions instead of doting on thread count, we maybe, possibly would stop asking.

As the Patriots continue their 12th playoff run in 13 years, clearly the whole Belichickian Do-Your-Job-No-Need-To-Speak mantra is working out. But at the same time, societal expectations from athletes are evolving faster than a Taylor Gabriel breakaway touchdown. The NFL’s biggest storyline this season was Colin Kaepernick and the rise of athlete activism. A plethora of Kaepernick’s peers followed suit. As the election passed and a new administration began, sports figures making their preferences known has become commonplace. This past weekend alone, Kraft, John Elway and Tony Romo were spotted at the inauguration, while Lions DeAndre Levy and Johnson Bademosi joined the Women’s March on Washington.

We no longer live in the world of Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods hiding behind apolitical public personas, all while making millions as brands. With such a charged political climate and social media providing more pulpits than ever, the athlete with intentionally vague positions is becoming more of the outlier. Brady is just that.

If Brady could press rewind, he likely would have never placed that hat in his locker. Or if Brady knew early on that Trump’s candidacy was legitimate and that he’d be used as a pawn, he could have asked his good friend to keep his name out of his public addresses. He could do that now, too. But none of that was happened, nor has Brady provided any clarity on his presidential friendship. So yes, the curiosity continues.