Imagine, if you will, a pro athlete, one of the best at his craft, but with significant character issues to his credit. He’s broken numerous records while leading his team to multiple championships, but has had well-documented on and off-field controversies. His opponents have long said he unleashes profane tirades at them during games. He’s often caught by cameras berating his own teammates between plays. In 2007, at the height of his professional success, he bolted a high-profile relationship, leaving his then-girlfriend–several months pregnant with their child at the time–for a younger woman, whom he later married. That same year, he became a central figure in the first of two cheating scandals he’s been linked to in his career.
Can you name that player? I’ll help you out: it’s Tom Brady, the New England Patriots’ signal caller and the NFL’s golden boy. Omitting his name until after the description of his accomplishments and transgressions was done to prove a point. Listing the things that Brady’s done wrong without mentioning his name almost certainly conjures an image of someone other than the smiling, supermodel-marrying, walking GQ ad that is Brady. It’s arguable that in the court of public opinion, Brady gets more of a pass than any other modern athlete. Others have been skewered for having less-than-perfect relationships with the mothers of their children or for allegations of cheating during games. Fines get levied. Suspensions handed out. There’s talk of asterisks next to records and de facto bans from Halls of Fame.
Brady, though, is mostly unaffected. Sure, he's got haters. And the current #DeflateGate scandal won’t win him any new fans, at least not among the population living south of Providence or west of Worcester, Mass. (and especially not after the aw-shucks, who-knew of his press conference this week). But unless Brady is found to have deflated all 11 of those balls himself (and Roger Goodell grows an enormously over-inflated set of his own), Brady won’t miss a snap from center, especially not in the Super Bowl. He’ll still sell Tag Heuer watches. He’ll still be they guy Ugg pays to sell you manslippers.
He’ll do all that because, inexplicably, his invisible Teflon coating remains uncompromised no matter what he does. What is it about Brady that buys him that kind of grace and goodwill? There’s plenty. The guy wins. The Pats are undeniably the NFL’s best team of the past 15 years and their quarterback is the biggest reason for that. Then there’s, his look: Brady is the kind of handsome that most guys hate because they wish they had it. It gets him endorsement deals. It gets him supermodels. It’s gotten some of you to buy those manslippers. America loves handsome, successful winners. More to the point, Americans are always more forgiving of the transgressions of the elite than those of the also-ran. Brady wins because he’s a winner but that still doesn’t explain it all.
Barry Bonds was the best baseball player of his generation, and a handsome fella pre-and-post swollen body. He’s already been passed up for Cooperstown three times and likely won’t get in until he’s grayed, long after today’s baseball writers succumb to the years and a generation that can’t remember the steroid era starts voting. Brady won’t have to wait for history to be so kind.
Lance Armstrong beat cancer, but his cheating and his lying about it still cost him his Tour de France victories, his career and his reputation. LeBron James can’t take advantage of NBA free agency rules written specifically for superstars like him without incurring the wrath of entire cities. What happened when he left Cleveland was a case study on where the concentric circles of Q-scores and race intersect.
Is it possible skin color is an X-factor in why Tom Terrific’s popularity never wavers, even if his ethics may? Sure. But with all the other factors at play, that's super debatable at best. What’s not is that the NFL won’t dare levy a punishment that would keep it’s most popular — if not divisive — player off the field for Super Bowl XLIX, no matter what the DeflateGate investigation reveals.
If you believe different, I’ve got a pair of boots and a luxury watch to sell ya.