- Ian O’Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, “The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter.” ESPN Radio broadcasts “The Ian O’Connor Show” every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »
Tom Brady has been an earnest and largely reliable role model for two decades, and yet this week he has been setting a dreadful example for the millions who admire him. As the coronavirus pandemic rages across the nation, and through his adopted state of Florida, Brady has defied the recommendation of the NFL Players Association’s medical director and worked out with some of his Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates.
Last weekend, Dr. Thom Mayer wrote: “Please be advised that it is our consensus medical opinion that in light of the increase in COVID-19 cases in certain states that no players should be engaged in practicing together in private workouts. Our goal is to have all players and your families as healthy as possible in the coming months.
“We are working on the best mitigation procedures at team facilities for both training camps and the upcoming season, and believe that it is in the best interest of all players that we advise against any voluntary joint practices before training camp commences.”
Apparently, Brady’s reaction was to disregard that consensus medical opinion, continuing to show that ol’ New England Patriots grit in the first preseason of the rest of his life. As he approaches his 43rd birthday, Brady has something to prove to himself, to the doubters and to the legend, Bill Belichick, who decided he wanted someone named Jarrett Stidham to take Brady’s place.
So on Tuesday, three days after ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that at least two Bucs players were among members of the organization who had tested positive for COVID-19, Brady gathered with about a dozen teammates for a two-hour workout at the Berkeley Preparatory School, according to the Tampa Bay Times. On Thursday, a day after Hillsborough County reported a single-day high of 716 new infections, Kevin O’Donnell of WTVT Fox 13 posted helicopter-view footage of Brady & Co. back at it at Berkeley, ignoring social distancing guidelines while building team chemistry and chasing route-tree bliss.
The NFLPA declined to comment, and Brady’s publicist said the quarterback would not offer comment, either. But the quarterback did comment later, via Instagram story: “Only thing we have to fear, is fear itself,” he posted, quoting President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inaugural speech in 1933, during the Great Depression. The coronavirus has killed more than 120,000 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than double the total of U.S. soldiers who died during the Vietnam War.
This pandemic is worthy of everyone’s fear.
Brady isn’t the only NFL quarterback participating in workouts designed to fill the minicamp and OTA void. But Matthew Stafford, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Kyle Allen are not Tom Brady, six-time Super Bowl champ. When you are one of the most accomplished athletes of all time, and stand among the precious few who belong in Michael Jordan’s ballpark, your job description is different. You bear the burden of heavier responsibilities.
A recommendation isn’t a rule, and Tom Brady didn’t have to listen to his union’s medical director. Brady should have listened to him, though, and spent more time connecting virtually with his receivers, backs and offensive linemen. He’s better than his misguided attempt to use his work ethic as a shield.
Brady, a recreational golfer of note, does have some past bogeys on his scorecard, from Deflategate to a couple of dubious claims about his TB12 products. Yet even the most embittered New York Jets fan would concede that his pros, as a man, far outweigh his cons.
With the help of Peyton Manning, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson last month, Brady raised $20 million for COVID-19 relief during his fascinating tee-to-green misadventure. He earned another $800,000 for the cause in the All In Challenge by offering the winning bidder tickets to his first Tampa Bay home game, dinner afterward and a game-worn jersey and cleats as parting gifts. Brady and his wife, Gisele Bundchen, also donated 750,000 meals to area families in need.
But sometimes, good people make bad decisions at really bad times. Florida is on fire now. State officials reported nearly 9,000 new COVID-19 cases Friday, a massive increase on the previous single-day high. The governor recently cited “a real explosion in new cases amongst our younger demographics.” People traveling from Florida into the tristate New York area — once the epicenter of the pandemic — are now required to quarantine for 14 days on arrival.
So the NFLPA made its statement about members staging group workouts, and on Thursday the NFL’s chief medical officer, Allen Sills, said the league is “in the exact same place. … This is where everyone in that team environment is going to share the same risks, but they’ll also share the same responsibilities with each other … for doing the very best that they can to implement these measures and keep themselves and their household members as safe as possible throughout the course of the season.”
The Florida Department of Health has advised residents to keep a social distance of at least 6 feet, to avoid large gatherings and close quarters, and to cover their mouths and noses when around others in public. This is no time for Tom Brady to be filmed and photographed rejecting those measures and his own union’s league-backed plea, practicing too closely with Rob Gronkowski and others before posting pictures of himself in helmet and pads and sweat-soaked shirts. As a revered public figure, Brady should not be sending this message to a country still struggling to comprehend the tenacity of a vile opponent.
Instead he should be following the lead of PGA Tour star Brooks Koepka, who withdrew from this week’s Travelers Championship because his caddie tested positive for the virus. Koepka, who tested negative, said he pulled himself from the field because he was taking the crisis very seriously and didn’t want to jeopardize anyone’s health.
New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins shared that sentiment. He called football a “nonessential business” on CNN, and said he would not be comfortable returning to the game until the risk is “really eliminated.”
Across all sports, college and pro, the number of athletes and staffers testing positive has reminded everyone of just how difficult it is going to be to play games during a pandemic. Brady isn’t making it any easier. He has had an interesting first offseason in Tampa, starting with his decision to work out in a park that had been closed down. Everyone, including the mayor, turned that one into a joke.
Nobody should be laughing now.
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