Tom Brady announced his retirement again on February 1, 2023. And this time, the seven-time Super Bowl winner said it was “for good.”
We’ve been through this before. Exactly a year to the day in 2022, Brady announced his retirement from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But 40 days later, he changed his mind and went into his third season with the team.
In 2023, instead of the emotional farewell he delivered in 2022, he kept it short and sweet by uploading an announcement to social media thanking everyone who’d supported him. He’d let the Bucs management know that morning at 6 a.m.
After 23 seasons playing professional football, and after garnering almost every award possible in his sport, Brady has decided this is finally it.
A legacy of glory
So let’s take a look at his legacy. On the field, it’s extraordinarily positive, with records broken and superlatives legitimately earned.
Off the field, maybe not so much.
For many fans and sportswriters, Tom Brady is the quintessential quarterback whose work on the gridiron has often taken on the aspect of a work of art.
Brady is a three-time NFL MVP who scored 25 touchdowns and passed for 4,694 yards in 2022, at the mature age of 45. His selection as MVP in 2010 made him the first unanimous choice of the Sportswriters Association.
At the conclusion of his career, he remains the NFL’s all-time leader in terms of regular season wins (251), touchdown passes (649), and passing yards (89,214). In addition, he holds the record for his five Super Bowl MVP designations, 10 Super Bowl appearances, and 21 Super Bowl touchdown passes.
And there are more superlatives, including the fact that Brady is the oldest Super Bowl player to win the title of MVP and the only player in history to have beaten all 32 NFL teams in regular-season games.
Brady is best known for playing 20 seasons with the New England Patriots. Learning of the star’s retirement, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he didn’t think there’d been a quarterback like Brady in the entire century-old history of the NFL.
Patriots head coach and general manager Bill Belichick called Brady “the greatest player” with “the greatest career.” He added that he considers Brady “a great, great person.” That’s quite the accolade, considering the two were said to be often at loggerheads, especially toward the end of Brady’s career with the Patriots. But they’ve also displayed mutual respect over the years, with Belichick saying that working with Brady made him a better coach.
A legacy of privilege
Off the field, Brady has shown himself as flawed and fallible as anyone else. To emphasize one glaringly obvious point, he’s demonstrated cluelessness about race and the issues that affect his Black teammates.
When he left the Patriots for Tampa Bay in 2020, he told radio personality Howard Stern that despite being a prominent white quarterback leading a majority-Black team, he “never saw race.” That’s a remarkable statement, considering that race has never been so much a public issue in American life since the Civil Rights movement.
“Sports,” Brady continued, “transcends race.” It also transcends money, said the quarterback who’s made hundreds of millions of dollars in his career.
Brady’s gotten fair pushback for these remarks, with commentators noting how much they reek of privilege. To be so oblivious to race these days, you have to think the guy’s deliberately refusing to let himself see things. This kind of “color-blindness,” regardless of any positive intent on Brady’s part, just serves to deny the experiences of his Black fellow players at a time they could have used his advocacy the most.
It is indeed a privilege not to have to “see” race in today’s America. According to social science researchers who published a multi-university 2016 study, we’re not talking about “color-blindness” but “color-evasiveness.”
Brady’s assertion of his privilege not to see also negates the history of the NFL itself. The American Football League (AFL), the precursor to Brady’s own Patriots’ American Football Conference (AFC), did not adopt the NFL’s quotas limiting participation of Black players a century ago. While racism certainly afflicted the AFL, the league did recruit from historically Black colleges, and has a better track record in this respect than the NFL, with which it merged in 1966.
Brady praised Colin Kaepernick
To his credit, Brady did speak up in praise of Colin Kaepernick at the height of Kaepernick’s protests against police brutality and inequality. Brady said he respected players who chose to kneel on the field, saying it opened up “healthy” conversations.
There’s also plenty of reason to feel that Brady received far more lenient treatment during the scandals of his career than would have been afforded a Black counterpart. For example, he’s (in)famously refused to shake hands with opposing quarterbacks who’ve defeated him, notably Nick Foles when Brady’s Patriots lost Super Bowl LII to the Philadelphia Eagles.
And who can forget Deflategate in 2014? Brady and the Patriots were accused of deflating footballs when they played the Indianapolis Colts for the AFC title. Brady, who denied allegations that he knowingly participated, received a four-game suspension and the Patriots received a $1 million fine.
Despite it all, Brady’s sheer longevity in the game, his passion for it, and his many broken records that will likely stand for some time deserve admiration. It would also have been nice if he’d been the hero off the field that a lot of people were hoping he’d be.