Tom Brady is a More Attractive Version of Another Man I Hate
Last Winter, America was especially lost. We were meandering through political and pop culture landscapes that were probably meaningless on a desperate quest for meaning. We poured over song lyrics, TV scripts and Instagram comments in an effort to source an explanation for the trauma we just collectively experienced. We read (or more likely skimmed) and shared think pieces that either validated or exacerbated our anger. We wanted vengeance, and also to be redeemed. We placed outsized importance on people and events we previously willed to be apolitical.
In this desperate spirit, we gathered in front of our TVs on February 5th, 2017 in the hopes that 53 NFL players from Atlanta (and Lady Gaga) could reclaim the narrative we lost control of three months before.
Humans love to assign symbolism to sports, and in many ways sports are symbolic. And Super Bowl LI was lousy with symbolism. SNL's Michael Che may have put it best when he said Super Bowl LI was his chance to relax and “watch the blackest city in America beat the most racist city I’ve ever been to.”
The New England Patriots were squaring off against the Atlanta Falcons, creating a match up between two teams whose fans, hometowns, cultures and general auras barely exist on the same planet- let alone in the same professional sports league. On one sideline, you had the Falcons who hail from what is arguably the most important epicenter of Black culture in America. According to the most recent census data (2010), 54% of Atlanta's residents are African American. Atlanta is the home of Spelman and Morehouse and the now defunct Freaknik festival. It has given the world Outkast (Andre 3000 is a frequent guest at both Falcons and UGA games), Gucci Mane, Usher, Trap, and Donald Glover whose TV show is an unapologetic celebration of the Blackness of the city with which it shares its name. The Falcons have become ambassadors of the city's cultural identity in a way that few other sports teams have, with the exception of the 80s-90s Oakland Raiders (see the team's Rise Up media campaign, featuring Samuel L. Jackson, as proof).
On the other side of the field, stood the New England Patriots. A dynastic franchise who was playing in their ninth Super Bowl against a team who was gearing up for only their second trip to the championship. They had dominated the football conversation for almost two decades. They also arrived in Houston from a region of America that is closely tied to toxic whiteness.
For the sake of argument, let's call Boston the Patriots' hometown- as it is the closest major city to their Foxborough stadium. Boston has long been at odds with its own truth. It often sees itself as a congregation of diverse, liberal thinkers who come to study at the city's prestigious universities. In reality, a stroll down an average Boston sidewalk or a trip to a Boston sports stadium is similar to casting yourself in the whitewashed version of urban America depicted on the set of Friends. (To corroborate this reality, Google "most racist city in America" and see what you get.)
The Boston Globe's fantastic investigative series examining its hometown's own history with racial conflict provides a slew of statistics that enumerates what is visually apparent in most of the city's public spaces. Reporters at the Globe recently did the very undignified work of counting the number of black people they noticed in famous Boston public spaces in order to better represent the statistics above, here is a sampling of what they observed: 4 out of 200 diners counted at restaurants on Kenmore Square on a Thursday night were black, 4% of the 3,000 patrons who entered the Museum of Fine Arts on a Saturday were black, and 2% of 4,600 fans counted at select entrances to Fenway Park before a recent game were black.
Just 7% of Boston's population is black. And this 7% enjoys very little upward mobility-or respect. The Globe sought to identify the city's middle class black enclaves, defined by three criteria: At least 15 percent of the residents are black; and among the black residents, at least 30 percent had a four-year college degree and their household income was at or above the median for their metro area. Boston has 4 neighborhoods that meet these criteria, in contrast, Atlanta has 110.
The Globe also attempts to quantify something that is almost impossible to measure- racism. In a national survey of African Americans commissioned by the paper, participants were asked to rate 8 major U.S. cities as "welcoming" or "unwelcoming" to people of color. Boston ranked the most unwelcoming of the 8 cities, with 54% of participants labelling it as such. Its nearest competitor was Charlotte, with 38% of participants saying they feel unwelcome there. Rounding out the list was Atlanta with only 16% of participants calling it unwelcoming.
As racism is impossible to quantify and the word "unwelcoming" is impossible to define in a statistical sense, much must be inferred from anecdotal evidence. Here are two examples that may help to clarify this term:
At the charter school network I used to work for, kids were treated to an end of year trip where they travelled to a different city. At my Newark school, the 7th graders were sent to Boston for 3 days of college visits and city tours. I went on this trip in 2015. For context, 60+ 12-13 year olds were traveling from a city where their black and brown skin was the norm to a place where only 2% of the diners out and about on a Thursday night were people who looked like them. As our bus nudged its way through the traffic filled streets of downtown Boston, a student turned to me with earnestly and asked, "Ms. Haut, where are all the black people? Do they, like, hide them?" I had no credible response. He followed up by asking, "Should I be scared?" I couldn't honestly say no. While the trip was mostly lovely, our students were subjected to stares, whispers and the hurling of more epithets than they would ever experience on their trips to New Orleans or D.C.. Tensions peaked during our campus tour of Harvard (which, full disclosure, is one of my least favorite places in the Northeast). After deploying familiar microaggressions like "Your kids are so well [behaved/ dressed/spoken]", our tour guide, who was wearing a straw hat and the type of theatrical confidence only owned by white people who attend Ivy League schools, gave a stupid answer to a great question. One of our students asked, "what percentage of your students are minorities?" Tour guide answer: "Ohhhhhhh, I have no idea. We have a TON of international students though."
The Worst, and most relevant to this essay, place to turn for "unwelcoming" anecdotes is Fenway Park. As indicated by the statistics above, you'd be hard pressed to find a face that is not white in a typical game day crowd. This homogeneity translates to the treatment of players on the field. In May 2017, the Red Sox were pummeled by the Orioles. During that game, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones was pummeled by the N-word launched at him by a number of Boston fans, with one throwing a bag of peanuts at him. Jones reported afterwards that this was the standard experience at Fenway. Unfortunately, Jones' experience is not unique. Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia said he has never experienced racial abuse at any other major league stadium besides Fenway. In 2013, a Sox fan was ejected from Fenway after shouting to the Tigers' Travyon Martin Jab, ""Prince Fielder’s crackhead brother... go back to the ghetto." Racist fans have also made their presence known at the Celtics' TD Garden and at Bruins games, and on the internet. Social media accounts affiliated with Boston sports fans regularly spit out hateful messages meant for visiting black athletes, like this one Tweeted at Washington Capital Joel Ward after his game winning goal against the Bruins in 2016: "The fact that a n**** got the goal makes it ten times worse #gobacktoafrica." This racist athletic history runs long, the Red Sox were the last MLB team to add an African-American player in 1959, 12 years after the Brooklyn Dodgers started Jackie Robinson. (See more about the racist history of Boston sports fans in Complex and the Globe.)
The Patriots and their fans have done very little to combat Boston's reputation for racism, in fact they have only kindled it. Fans at Gillette Stadium were the only ones to collectively boo when their team kneeled during the National Anthem this season. Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who has a net worth of $6.2 billion, is a loyal friend of Donald Trump who placed a personal call to the President after the passage of the tax bill to tell him it was "incredible". Head coach Bill Belichik had a very public dinner with Trump during his campaign, attended his rallies and wrote him a personal letter to congratulate him on his win (Also, complete aside, but COULD YOU IMAGINE if a woman or non-white man appeared on national television wearing the spit-stained, cap-sleeved, crop top Belichik squeegees across his potbelly and tried to pass it off as a "uniform"? There would be a literal crucifixion).
And, of course, the face of the franchise (and the NFL at large) is Tom muthafuckin' Brady.
Tom Brady is everything Donald Trump wants to be, and a few things he already is. Their friendship is deeper and grosser than any of us really want to know, and goes well beyond the MAGA hat spotted in Brady's locker in 2015. Below are the milestones of the Trump-Brady romance worth knowing. Most sourced from this 2016 Daily Beast article that has way too many pictures of the two of them together- none of which will be featured here.
Worth saying first: Tom Brady is married to an immigrant the way Donald Trump is married to an immigrant. The difference is that it is very plausible that Gisele is sexually attracted to, and in love with, Tom Brady. Brady is objectively attractive and incredibly talented. He has also worked hard to become one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. That is where the differences between Brady and his presidential counterpart seem to end. Read on for more:
They bonded over the objectification of women: The two met in 2002, one month after Brady won his first Super Bowl, when Trump flew Brady to Gary, Indiana to judge the Miss USA pageant. Trump's review of the rookie QB: “If one thing stands out about Tom Brady, it’s that he loves those women. And guess what? They love him, too."
Trump offered Ivanka to Brady as a dowry for being a "winner": In an appearance on the Howard Stern show in 2004, Trump noted that Brady and Ivanka (who was then 23) should get married because he's a "great guy" and "He’s a winner, and by that I mean every time he needs to make the pass he makes it. You have other guys in the NFL and in life who have all the equipment but don’t make the pass." (This comment also proves that for someone who spends A LOT of time talking about football, he has a very limited understanding of the sport.)
Brady is the darling of the Republican party Trump strives to be: In 2004, Brady was an honored guest of George W. Bush at that year's State of the Union address.
Both are chill with cheating: After Brady earned a four game suspension in 2016 for his role in deflategate, Trump tweeted that it was "unjust" insisting "sue them Tom", claiming Brady could win $250 million in defamation damages.
Trump name dropped Brady like crazy during and after the Massachusetts primaries: In a March 2016 interview with the New York Times, Trump rambled: “Tom Brady is a great friend of mine. He’s a winner and he likes winners. He was very helpful to us in Massachusetts on Tuesday.”
Brady was happy as a clam to get that hat, and to support his "friend": In September of 2015, Bleacher Report published a picture from a post-game press visit where a Make America Great Again hat is displayed prominently in Brady's locker. When asked, Brady called the hat a "nice keepsake" and in response to being asked about a potential Trump win, Brady responded: "I hope so. That would be great. There’d be a putting green on the White House lawn. I know that.”
Brady also avoids direct and uncomfortable questions from the press: In November 2016, Brady was asked to comment on his friend's then recently released Access Hollywood tape during a post-game press conference. Brady gave no comment, and in classic Trump administration posturing, walked off the stage.
Gisele told Instagram Brady wasn't voting for Trump, but we have reason to believe otherwise: In January of 2017, a reporter for NBC's Boston affiliate asked Brady for his thoughts on his recently announced Muslim travel ban. Brady had this to say:
“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,” said Brady. “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 and I’ve always enjoyed his company. I support all my friends in everything they do. I think it’s pretty remarkable what he’s achieved in his life.”
For Tom Brady, it doesn't register that the blanket banning of citizens from seven countries is not something that deserves to be supported because he benefits from the same societal power structures that Donald Trump does. He is a white man with a public platform who has ostensibly never been asked to care about anyone other than himself, and there is little evidence that he does. For him, discussing the selective discrimination of people based on their religion or the color of their skin is an inconvenience that he he can squash on his way to the country club. He is concerned with his handicap, not systematic oppression.
His superior packaging makes his selfishness more palatable than that of the bloated troll Tweeting his own grave from somewhere in South Florida. It is easy for us to roll our eyes at his ignorance because he looks good with his shirt off and can throw a football. It is easy for us to shove off his stupidity because his wife is an international sex symbol who convinces us we care about South America. It is easy for us to deny that his idiocy validates the attitudes of the portions of his fanbase that throw bags of peanuts at athletes of color and tag their Tweets #gobacktoafrica. It is easy to forget that each time someone like Tom Brady voices his support for someone like Donald Trump it normalizes our current reality.
But February 5th, 2017 seemed to be the expiration date of America's unspoken Brady tolerance. He would leave that game a loser, no matter what the scoreboard said. America, and its internet, had branded Brady as a Trump facsimile that needed to be vanquished. For many, watching him lose would be a less satisfying substitute for the loss we failed to produce in November. And watching him win would be like reliving November 9th all over again.
And win he did. In the most Trumpian fashion. Like a certain superior candidate we were convinced would land a presidency, the Falcons started the second half with an eighteen point lead we all latched on to as being the final score. We Dirtybirded and appreciated Matt Ryan's earnest charm and 100% pass completion. It seemed like an inevitable loss for Brady, and by extension for the alt-right.
But as we know, Brady rewrote the ending we had naively invested ourselves in. He and his Patriots scored 25 points in the last twenty minutes of regulation. During overtime, the Falcons victory we considered inevitable a few hours before was shot dead in the end zone by a Brady to James White touchdown. Brady was awarded his 5th Super Bowl ring as images of a shaken Wolf Blitzer declaring Donald J. Trump the 45th president danced in our heads.
A villain, one whose evil deeds were both literal and metaphorical, had stolen yet another victory. And one year later we were forced to stomach the possibility of this same villain slipping another gaudy piece of jewelry over a sixth knuckle. We approached last Sunday's game with a more realistic set of expectations. An Eagles win would be nice, a Patriots loss even nicer, but we knew the odds.
Odds were meant to be broken. And the Eagles shattered them. A Super Bowl-less underdog from a notoriously blue collar city whose most famous citizen is a fictional boxer handed Brady a loss that felt like a national redemption.
And Brady cried like he usually does after a loss. But don't mistake these tears for a much-needed public display of male vulnerability. See them for what they are-the salty drops of self pity dripping from the eyes of someone who has been told things will always go his way. Tom Brady is not crying for his teammates or his mom or his fans, he is crying for himself. He handles losing the same way his favorite golf buddy always has, poorly.
Oh, and P.S.: If you think Brady's influence is confined to the football filed, look alive. Brady told ESPN in 2015 that his "craziest ambition" is to run for Senate. Conservative news outlets are planting this seed, running essays encouraging Brady to challenge Elizabeth Warren.
And as a nod to the fallen Falcons, just a reminder that this change.org petition to change our National Anthem to something more representative exists.
Ram's Super Bowl commercial featuring an MLK voice over was more than just tone deaf, its messaging was completely contradictory to what King was actually saying. Terrifying things heard on Philly police scanners after the Eagles won. Meek Mill's Dreams and Nightmares was streamed 1.4 million times the day after the Super Bowl and he wishes he could have been there. Three Eagles players have already said they will not be visiting the White House. Bruno Mars is calling for an all rap half time show during next year's Super Bowl at the Georgia Dome. Four Ethicists walk into a Super Bowl Party. The film the NFL does not want you to see. Rembert Browne's retelling of a Falcons fan's trip to Houston. The Atlantic's case against Tom Brady. And, why we love to hate Tom Brady.
In this issue: Jenna and Wesley from Still Processing talk through the cultural implications of Nipplegate, a playlist from the past has resurfaced, I try to repair my relationship with text messaging in this week's list and give you one more song lyric of the past reimagined for the digital age.
I. About that halftime show: Justin Timberlake was given the second chance Janet Jackson never will, and he blew it.
Still Processing is a NY Times podcast where Times culture writers Jenna Wortham (who recently wrote this excellent profile of RuPaul for the Times magazine) and Wesley Morris talk about pop culture and how it intersects with race, gender and culture at large. It is fresh and insightful and Jenna believes in horoscopes and crystals in the same way I do. Their February 1st episode, entitled We're Still Here For Janet, features a conversation about how the infamous nipple incident at the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show reshaped the careers of Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson. Their insight is fascinating. It does not focus on the tired topic of whose "fault" Janet's wardrobe malfunction was, but rather on the cultural forces behind its aftermath. You can listen to the whole episode here. Here are a few of the finer points:
Early in the episode, Wesley points out how important it is to consider the cultural context of 2004. The U.S. had just entered an unpopular war and in the Super Bowl and its halftime show, Americans were looking for a distraction. The American invasion of Iraq was an aggressive move that was not well received around the world, so the Super Bowl was hoped to protect and project "American" values like morality and wholesomeness. This made the nipple slip seem particularly violating, and led to 500,000 complaints to the FCC and 35,000 TiVo rewatchings. (There is also a Silicon Valley legend that the incident spawned the idea for YouTube, launched in 2005.)
Justin Timberlake was 23 at the time, had long left N'Sync and had recently released Justified- an album that cemented Justin's safe version of sexuality with songs like Senorita and Rock Your Body. Justin is a white man from Tennessee who managed to align himself with black musical heavyweights like The Neptunes and Timberland. He created a less threatening, but still fun, version of musical swagger that Michael Jackson had introduced to the world two decades before.
Janet Jackson, who was 38 at the time, was dressed in a BDSM inspired outfit handmade by Alexander McQueen. She struck a powerful tone as she performed Rhythm Nation and All For You, and continued to assert her power during her surprise performance of Rock Your Body with Justin. Wesley likens their stage dynamic to Michael Jackson's The Way You Make Me Feel video, where Michael confuses street harassment with fun flirtation. Justin groped and leered at Janet throughout the performance, chasing her around the stage like a puppy. Until he catches her, crying out "Bet I'll have you naked by the end of this song", a bet he obviously won.
The image of Janet's exposed nipple deeply offended people. But given what we've learned as witnesses and participants in the #metoo movement, it is worth reexamining WHY that image is so affecting. To do so, please take a look at the photo below, taken just moments after the exposure.
The reason this picture is so offensive is NOT because it features a body part we all have. This is a picture of a woman who is ashamed of something that has just been done TO her by a man. She is gripping a part of herself that was just exposed to the world because of a choice a man made. She is bowing her head in shame, and yea, he looks surprised- but he's doesn't share in her embarrassment. Regardless of the truth that led to this moment, this image is an objective visual of the power men wield against women, especially women of color, and what they are able to do with that power.
Janet almost lost her career over this. At the 2004 Grammys, Justin Timberlake was awarded the Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal performance for Cry Me A River and given a platform to make a public apology. Janet's invitation was revoked. It has also come to light that Janet was slated to star in a Lena Horne biopic that year, a role she lost in the aftermath of Nipplegate. Her album Damita Jo, released a month after the Super Bowl, was blacklisted from many radio stations and widely panned by critics mostly based on its adjacency to the incident.
Janet has taken control of her own rebranding in the past two decades. She has starred in a three movies, released three albums, gone on four world tours, started a record label, become a mom, written a book and will headline this year's Panorama festival in NYC. And to his credit, Justin admitted in a 2006 interview that he only received 10% of the blame when it should have been 50/50, and that woman and people of color often carry the majority of the public burden.
It is an interesting thought experiment to hypothesize about how today's internet would react to Nipplegate (Vic Mensa shares some thoughts on this in a 2016 episode of The Larry Wilmore show), or if we'd even call it that at all. What I do know for sure is America needs to reflect on how we chose to handle this incident AND why we found the exposure of Janet Jackson's breast to be such threat.
A note on the half time show: Justin looked tired, bored and poorly styled. It was really unclear if he wanted to be there, a thematic sentiment that drowned his entire performance- from Senorita to Can't Stop the Feeling, a song that definitely snuck through the gates of Hell to Troll us all. He moved like an aging pop star who agreed to perform at a friend's kid's Bar Mitzvah because he owed them a favor. Sorry, Justin, but we've seen you do better.
And speaking of things that are tired, bored and poorly styled, Justin's new album Man of the Woods has no idea what it is. The Bon Iver rip off of a cover image promises some folksy introspection, but its contents are a disorganized attempt to master different genres. I gave it a once through and don't plan on revisiting.
II. Music: Old Playlists Die Hard
Except they don't. Their reentry into my rotation is always welcome when my current library is feeling stale. Not only do they remind me of songs I may have forgotten about, but they serve as a time capsule of how I felt about life when I made it. I spent a lot of this week thinking about the Fall of 2016, so I returned to my Spotify playlist named after that season. Here's what I found:
I was waxing nostalgic for Georgia: Shawty Lo had just died so his song Atlanta, GA was obviously an entry, as were songs by Ludacris and Childish Gambino, and songs from J.Cole's first album (J.Cole is NOT an Atlanta rapper, but The Warm Up was a soundtrack for my life).
Speaking of a Soundtrack to My Life: I was definitely in my feelings (as always) given the number of Kid Cudi songs featured here.
At least five Drake songs make it onto every playlist I make: In this case, ten +. Most are from Nothing Was the Same and Thank Me Later-which makes sense given the nostalgia mentioned in bullet 1.
I was feeling whole albums: Multiple songs from Blonde, Starboy and ATCQ's We Got it from Here...Thank You 4 Your Songs take up a disproportionate amount of space.
And, never forget when I pretty much exclusively listened to Amine's Caroline for a full calendar month. The music video is SO fun, y'all.
III. List of the Week: 7 of the best text message related lyrics
I've been hard on texting lately. I find it to be an anxiety producing source of communication. But it has its benefits. At the very least, it provides for some great musical material. Here are seven of my favorite examples that I think capture some aspect of how we currently communicate:
"So I typed a text to a girl I used to see/ sayin' I chose this cutie pie with whom I wanna be..." International Players Anthem (I Choose You), UGK + Outkast
"Scrolling through these mother fuckin' texts/ They ain't say nothing but the same shit/ Put that shit on do not disturb..." Ex Calling, 6Lack
"Where that chip at?/ Probably on your shoulder, 'cause I forgot to hit back/ Left you on read, apologies are said/ But often never meant, well fuck that, I repent/ for the message never sent..." J.Cole on Miguel's Come Through and Chill
"You know, I saved your last message to my phone, woman/ I didn't text you back that night, did I?/ It just says, 'Baby, when do you think you'll be home...'" City of Angels, Miguel (the power in this one is hearing him SING it)
"Passive aggressive when we're texting/ I feel the distance..." From Time, Drake + Jhene Aiko
"First time I'd ever saw you/ and you text nothing like you look..." Good Guy, Frank Ocean
"I overthink your punctuation use/ not my fault/ just a thing that my mind do..." The Louvre, Lorde
I'll leave you with this topical, Philly related entry into my catalogue of reimagined lyrics of the past: