Every Patriots player who has said he will skip the trip has drawn attention to himself. That’s the last thing Brady wants after dodging questions about his relationship with the president ever since that “Make America Great Again” cap was spotted in his locker 17 months ago.
Brady, like plenty of top sports stars before him, has to be looking at the possibility of another trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue knowing that he truly is in a can’t-win situation. If he goes, he’ll be perceived as taking a political stand, while if he skips . . . he’ll be perceived as taking a political stand. Either way, he’ll have to confront the very subject he has tried so strenuously to avoid. The Patriots, whose quarterback may be about to turn 40 but shows no signs of slowing down, are already talking about the idea of a Super Bowl repeat, which makes the idea of going to the White House even more of a zero-sum game for Brady, who plays for a widely unpopular team and has been rated one of the NFL’s most hated players.
For Brady, there are professional and personal precedents as well as personal considerations involving his wife, as well as the owner and coach of his team. There’s a lot going on here, and if he decides to stay home, he won’t be the first big-name athlete to do so.
This is prime time off for Brady, the time of year when he is usually photographed doing awkward things, like dancing at Carnival in Brazil or going down a waterslide. After winning the NBA championship in 1991, Michael Jordan skipped a trip to George H.W. Bush’s White House, saying, “As you know, my schedules have been very hectic. You guys have seen me, I’ve been every which way and because I choose to take my private three days somewhere no one can call me — it’s my prerogative. How can I be disrespecting the president when I choose to spend time with my family?”
Brady went that way when he cited a “family commitment” as the reason for not joining the team for its 2015 visit to President Obama’s White House and then turned up shopping for a watch in New York.
The Boston Herald speculated that Brady was upset at a crack by then-White House press secretary Josh Earnest about Deflategate, which was only weeks old at the time. He wouldn’t have been very comfortable because Obama made a joke about it, too, only to then receive a chilly reception from Patriots players and a thumbs-down from Bill Belichick.
Being the butt of a presidential joke is a pretty compelling reason to opt out of the trip. When Manny Ramirez skipped the Boston Red Sox’ trip in 2008, George W. Bush quipped: “I’m sorry [Ortiz’s] running mate, Manny Ramirez, isn’t here. I guess his grandmother died again. Just kidding. Tell Manny I didn’t mean it.” Never mind that the Red Sox’ general manager at the time, Theo Epstein, chose not to attend, either, citing “family reasons.”
Goaltender Tim Thomas skipped the Boston Bruins’ visit to Obama’s White House in 2012, saying, “I believe the federal government has grown out of control. Today I exercised my right as a free citizen and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.”
Larry Bird skipped the trip after the Boston Celtics’ won the NBA championship in 1984, saying of Ronald Reagan, “If the president wants to see me, he knows where to see me.”
Patriots owner Robert Kraft has noticed the attention his players have received this month for publicly announcing that they will not visit Trump’s White House. And he pretty much just shrugged at their decisions, saying they are par for the course.
“Well, you know what’s interesting, this is our, I’m happy to say, fifth Super Bowl in the last 16 years,” Kraft told the “Today” show Monday morning. “And every time we’ve had the privilege of going to the White House, a dozen of our players don’t go. This is the first time it’s gotten any media attention. You know, some of the players have the privilege of going in college because they’re on national championship teams, others have family commitments. But this is America. We’re all free to do whatever’s best for us. We’re just privileged to be in a position to be going.”
Kraft reiterated on Fox Business’ “Mornings with Maria” that “every time that we go to the White House, there’s about a dozen players who don’t go. This is the first time there’s been any publicity, so you might just ask, ‘why is that?’ and is something an issue trying to be drummed up?”
Of course, there’s a new Oval Office resident now and who knows whether he will even continue a tradition that dates to at least Aug. 30, 1865, when President Andrew Johnson welcomed the Brooklyn Atlantics and Washington Nationals amateur baseball clubs. The political implications can be difficult to avoid, especially for a quarterback who has repeatedly called this president a friend.
The relationship is complicated by the feelings Kraft, who has praised Trump as a friend for helping Kraft after the death of his wife. Kraft, who also attended a party for the Japanese prime minister at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago over the weekend, also happens to be someone Brady looks up to as a father figure. And Belichick, Brady’s beloved coach, wrote a gushing letter to Trump just before the election, later explaining: “I write hundreds of letters and notes every month. [It] doesn’t mean I agree with every single thing that every person thinks about politics, religion or other subjects. I have multiple friendships that are important to me. That’s what that was about. It’s not about politics, it’s about football.”
And one would think that the opinion of the person who lives under the same roof as Brady would matter, too. Asked whether the couple supported Trump during the campaign, Brady’s wife, supermodel Gisele Bündchen, emphatically replied “NO!” to an Instagram user. That led to Brady saying he wasn’t going to talk politics anymore, after discussing the matter with his family.
Try as he might to avoid the topic of his political leanings, the president keeps pulling Brady back in, just as he did the day before the election when he told a New Hampshire crowd that he had gotten a call from Brady. Trump also mentioned another call on Inauguration Day. That again left Brady saying, “I’m not talking politics at all” during Super Bowl week.
He was more talkative last month, professing amazement that his relationship with Trump was such a big deal and pointing out that people can be friends while still disagreeing on lots of things. “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. You have a lot of friends in your life,” Brady said of Trump, whom he has described as a golf buddy. “I think there are things that are based in your own dealings with someone that is a personal dealing, not a public dealing. Because you have personal experiences.”
Against that backdrop, it would hardly be a surprise if Brady were to decide to just hang out in Montana or Brazil or, really, any place other than Washington, D.C., once that Patriots trip rolls around.