I have loved Tom Brady more than is probably healthy.
I have never met him and can’t speak to his character. I have watched countless games where he has saved the collective hides of my beloved New England Patriots, for which I am eternally grateful.
Which is why, back in 2015, when Brady was alleged to have deflated game footballs below the acceptable pressure, aka Deflategate, I was firmly on Team Brady.
As you may recall, the National Football League wanted to slam a four-game suspension on Brady, who felt a one-game was more appropriate and took the league to court. A labor dispute that should have been confined to a legal setting was thrust into a national arena of public opinion in an open contest of anger and outrage between an indignant nation convinced Brady cheated and New England fans affronted by the accusation.
I counted myself among that feverish faithful. I consumed pro-Brady media. I studied the Ideal Gas Law that governed air pressure and scrutinized the NFL’s Wells Report that documented the purported transgression. I seethed a blood-red anger. I debated. I argued. I unfriended friends. It was my Patriot-ic duty.
As the months wore on, the mood got darker. Wherever I travelled, I wore my Patriot apparel and would get dirty looks from the locals. I shot those looks right back, and thought, “Oh, please, start something with me.”
We are all susceptible to the intoxicating effects of belonging to a perceived community. The literature is rife with works celebrating the esprit de corps in supporting a sports team. In extreme cases, such as my Patriot-ic devotion, that collective sense of belonging can supersede all the aggregate elements – values, loves, fears, morals, personality – that define our identity and can result in the violence exemplified by the hooliganism that haunts international soccer. That I, a middle-aged man who hasn’t gotten into a physical altercation in 40 years, was willing to fight to defend the honor of a multi-millionaire I didn’t know demonstrates how my mind had crossed far from that of a thinking individual to a visceral, unconscious member of a collective.
The legal dispute eventually concluded, Brady served the four-game suspension, and the Patriots went on to win two more Super Bowls.
And then, last year, it all ended. Brady went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and I cannot support that team.
My Patriot-ism cannot extend to an individual, even one as talented as Tom Brady, but to the collective with which I have aligned for most of my life.
Good or bad, I am a Patriot.