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Tom Brady and the apolitical leader

Like many other New England teenagers, Tom Brady was my hero. In high school, I would obsess over his stats and highlights. I’d argue over Facebook about the various merits that made him more qualified than Aaron Rodgers for the title of G.O.A.T. A particularly angsty version of myself once told my mom that Tom Brady winning was the only consistent thing I had in my life.

The worst part about being a Tom Brady supporter is defending him. First it was Spygate, and even though I remember barely any of the details from when it developed in 2007, I adamantly denounced accusations of Brady’s involvement. Then it was Deflategate, where I was happy to explain to any sorry bystander that a football inflated to 11 pounds per square inch was only marginally different from one inflated to 12.5psi, and that every quarterback likes their footballs a certain way. The final boss of Brady scandals was a tough one to justify.

“Tom Brady is a Trump supporter.” I took a hard look at the evidence that suggested he supported Trump. I tried to move things around in my head to create a logical defense of my hero. But I quickly realized it didn’t matter; what mattered was that in the time that his fans were wondering whether he was a Trump supporter or not, he had the power to take a stand against the bigoted values the soon-to-be president stood for. He could have assured his teammates, league-mates, and fans that he supported the fight towards equality and for human rights. He did not.

What kind of a leader stays silent when their supporters need them most? When Colin Kaepernick led the movement across the NFL to kneel during the national anthem, where was Tom Brady? He wasn’t denouncing institutionalized racism in the NFL and America. As the national anthem protests progressed and the rhetoric evolved to essentially tell players that they should just “shut up and do their job,” it was clear to me that Tom Brady, the Patriots, and the NFL did not share my values. I chose to distance myself from the sport.

Fast forward to March 2020, when Tom Brady left New England as the COVID-19 cases accelerated. I don’t think athletes necessarily have a responsibility to their fanbase when considering whether to sign with a different team. That being said, it was all too ironic to me that this former hero of mine left my home in the middle of a pandemic to play golf in Tampa.

I write this as protests over the murder of George Floyd escalate, and clear leadership from the Minneapolis Police Department lacks. Why did it take so long for Floyd’s murderer to be taken into custody? Why has there been seemingly no effort from the city to heal the wounds this police state has created? Further, why are the police escalating the situation with drive-by macings, unprovoked projectiles, and unwarranted arrests of peaceful protestors and members of the press?

To extend these questions to the Carleton bubble, why did it require the insistence of hundreds of students for President Poskanzer to make a public statement addressing murder and police brutality? If the answer is that the leader of the school needs to answer not only to the students but to board members and donors as well, then perhaps he is not fit to be seen as a leader of the students at all.

I don’t mean to suggest that I think a leader must be a perfect model of human righteousness. I think a good leader can learn from mistakes by listening and making reparations. A leader does not hide behind an “apolitical” veil in an effort to please every party involved. In my eyes, a good leader takes a stand. Anyone else is hardly worth my support.

Back to the NFL. There are plenty of players that seem to be using their platform to speak out against the many injustices of the league. Michael and Martellus Bennett are particularly loud voices, along with Malcom Jenkins, and of course Colin Kaepernick to name a few. I admire the players who risk their spot on the starting lineup to stand up for what is right. The league, however, seems to insist on the suppression of these unique voices. If my time, money, and energy symbolizes support for the NFL and its spineless leadership, then count me out. The world has better leadership and organizations, predominantly on a local and community-based level, that I would much rather devote my energy towards.

The way you spend your time and resources has a very real impact on the world. Think carefully about who and what you support, and seek out the role models who will fight alongside you for what is right.

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