Tom Brady has retired from the NFL after 22 seasons in the league.
For fans of Brady — be they LGBTQ or not — some have adored him for the championships he brought to two markets. Others have been impressed by his history-leading stats and longevity. And yes — as I was reminded chatting with gay men on my most recent Atlantis cruise — some watched him for his good looks (more on that from Alex Reimer shortly).
Yet no one can say they have loved Brady for his support of the LGBTQ community. The Greatest Of All Time has, over his storied career, been absolutely silent about his thoughts on basic human rights like marriage equality, or even his willingness to accept a gay or bi teammate.
I’m not here to bash Brady in any way. While I’m a lifelong New England Patriots fan, I’ve never been a big fan of Brady himself (and it’s also impossible for my 2014 prediction of Brady’s future to have been more wrong). I have deep respect for him as a football player and a sports leader — What he’s done really was, just two decades ago, unthinkable in the NFL.
Yet doing a basic search for Brady’s thoughts on our community’s issues — and talking to two gay men who have interacted with Brady during their careers — it’s clear he has made a conscious decision, like so many other pro athletes, to avoid (almost) anything that could possibly smack of “politics.”
As they’re often compared, searches for Peyton Manning brought up similar results, though Manning did speak publicly about his acceptance of Michael Sam as a potential teammate.
On one hand, it’s understandable. For the first part of his career, Instagram and Twitter weren’t a thing. If a reporter didn’t ask a question, you didn’t answer it. And most sports reporters don’t want to ask the starting quarterback of an NFL franchise about gay issues. They certainly didn’t 15 years ago.
On the other hand, Brady’s 22-year silence on these issues is also odd. Massachusetts was at the center of the LGBTQ-rights conversation when in 2004 the state legalized same-sex marriage. Brady was the quarterback of the Patriots then, en route to Super Bowl No. 3 months later.
From 2008 to 2013, the other five New England states followed the Bay State’s lead. Brady was still the team’s signal-caller. Nothing.
The team he was playing for was, at the same time, emerging as a leader amongst pro-sports teams in the conversation about LGBTQ inclusion. In 2002, the Patriots participated in the annual Gay Bowl, the world’s LGBTQ flag football championship, sending legend Andre Tippett to mingle with the gay men assembled from across the United States.
In 2015, the Patriots were the only NFL team — and one of only three pro-sports teams — to sign an amicus brief pushing the Supreme Court to declare same-sex marriage a Constitutional right (they did).
Through it all, Brady kept his thoughts to himself.
Despite Brady’s public silence, two gay men who worked with and around Brady during his time in New England say the legendary quarterback was privately thoughtful and inclusive.
While he wasn’t out during his time blocking rushers for Brady, Ryan O’Callaghan said his experiences of Brady reflected an affable guy who treated him well.
O’Callaghan remembers an incident during his rookie season when Brady — already a three-time Super Bowl champion — saw his young tackle had missed a bus and gave him a ride in his car to practice. Just helping out another teammate.
O’Callaghan said he believes Brady would have “absolutely” accepted him on the team if he had in fact come out to his quarterback at the time.
“Being married to a super model I’m sure he’s met a few gay people in his life,” O’Callaghan said. Brady has been married to Brazilian fashion model Gisele Bündchen since 2009.
Brady never reached out to O’Callaghan when he came out publicly in 2017, but O’Callaghan — who hadn’t seen Brady in almost a decade — didn’t expect him to.
Same for Steve Buckley, the longtime Boston sports columnist — now at The Athletic — who came out as gay in 2011 while at the Boston Herald.
Also like O’Callaghan, Buckley said Brady was always friendly, even after he came out.
“Tom Brady was always super friendly to me before I came out and super friendly to me after I came out,” Buckley said. “If I needed him for a couple seconds alone I was able to get him. He was always cooperative and friendly with me and I never expected anything beyond that.”
Pro athletes staying quiet about hot topics is nothing new. Michael Jordan was criticized for years for not taking sides on issues, famously saying, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”
When Brady casually walked into a political firestorm — putting a hat from his golf buddy, Donald Trump, in his locker in 2015 — he was reminded why he’d focused his public persona on family and football for so many years.
As O’Callaghan said, it’s hard to believe Brady is anti-LGBTQ or somehow hates gay people. You don’t have to march in a Pride parade to fully accept people around you for who they are.
And frankly, even if Brady had been out-front on supporting, for example, same-sex marriage back in the day, people in New England — who were already ahead of most of the country — wouldn’t have moved any faster on the issue. Just because you cheer for someone to win doesn’t mean they will have an effect on your beliefs.
By design, Brady will be remembered for numerous NFL records, including most Super Bowl wins by a player (seven).
And maybe in “retirement” at age 44, he’ll open up more about his likely support for the LGBTQ community, too.