When the time came for the national anthem Sunday, one of the biggest questions of the day concerned New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Would Brady, who stood by his friendship with President Trump throughout the presidential campaign with maddeningly vague answers, take a knee in solidarity with his teammates after Trump called for NFL players who protest social injustice and racial inequality by refusing to stand for the national anthem to be fired or suspended? Would he stand and lock arms with them? And, as the NFL’s leading player right now, would he actually say anything? He gave a hint Sunday, liking an Instagram photo posted by Aaron Rodgers of himself and three Packers players kneeling. On Monday morning, after standing for the anthem and linking arms with a teammate, Brady was more explicit.
“I certainly disagree with what he said,” he said in his weekly WEEI radio appearance. “I thought it was just divisive. I just want to support my teammates. I am never one to say, ‘Oh, that is wrong. That is right.’ I do believe in what I believe in. I believe in bringing people together and respect and love and trust. Those are the values that my parents instilled in me.”
The president set off a weekend of protests in the NFL and NBA on Friday by mentioning athletes such as Colin Kaepernick who do not stand for the anthem in a Huntsville, Ala., speech. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s FIRED!’ ”
He went on to tweet that theme Sunday, saying fans should boycott the games until owners fire or suspend the protesting players. That set off protests around the league, with more than 250 players either linking arms and standing, taking a knee or, in the case of three teams, choosing to remain in the locker room for the anthem.
Brady, who skipped the Patriots’ trip to Trump’s White House to celebrate their Super Bowl LI victory, stood with his teammates during the anthem and said he heard boos in Gillette Stadium for those players who took a knee.
“Yeah, I did,” Brady said. “No, I think everyone has the right to do whatever they want to do. If you don’t agree, that is fine. You can voice your disagreement, I think that is great. It’s part of our democracy. As long as it is done in a peaceful, respectful way, that is what our country has been all about.”
Brady’s friendship with Trump goes back over a decade and became headline fodder when a “Make America Great Again” cap was spotted in his locker in the fall of 2015. In November, he sought to stay out of the debate but, when pressed by WEEI, said: “Donald is a good friend of mine. 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. I’ve always enjoyed his company.”
He tried to put the matter to rest before the Super Bowl, saying: “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. 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.”
Brady’s comment Monday echoed owner Robert Kraft’s, a longtime friend of Trump’s as well.
“I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday,” Kraft said in a statement. “I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger. There is no greater unifier in this country than sports and, unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal. Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.”
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