Tom Brady answering media questions at the pre-Super Bowl news conference where he avoided political questions like they were rushing linebackers.
Before the first question at the first pre-Super Bowl news conference was ever asked, I knew something was up when my summer condo resident neighbor who lives in Massachusetts called me the day before to announce she would not be rooting for the Patriots in this Sunday’s game. “What?” I asked. “What are you talking about? Have you gone nuts? You’re from Massachusetts” “Well, darling,” she said, “I guess you haven’t heard. Trump and the Patriots owner are friends and Brady likes the president, so whoever is playing against the Patriots that’s who I’m rooting for.” “That would be the Falcons,” I told her. “Whatever,” she said.
Then the tsunami hit yesterday afternoon when it was reported that the official transcript of the news conference would scrub all references to politics, Trump, and issues involving immigration, race, domestic violence, and all matters not grid-iron.
Well, I did, and maybe that’s not hard to do after all. Not only has the nation been rocked by divisiveness, but the sport of football has had its share of knocks most notably dealing with issues of domestic violence and the far more ominous issue of CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, caused by continuous, long-term head trauma to players resulting in debilitating loss of cognition, body control, disorientation, and eventually death. Over 225 diagnoses of head trauma have been made each of the last three years among current and former NFL players, several resulting in suicides and severe end-of-life disease.
The news conference is the first official act of the Super Bowl and players were instructed to avoid any comment on NFL or national political issues such as those raised by San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the national anthem at 49ers games in support of Black Lives Matter or those issues swirling around President Trump and his immigration detainment orders.
Call it an NFL non-offensive strategy. This one directed at not offending its fans rather than how its teams move the football.
Both Brady and Patriots Coach Bill Belichick refused to answer questions about either the president or the so-called “deflategate” episode where it was alleged that Brady ordered footballs to be deflated below regulation pressure so he could better throw them. The allegation resulted in NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspending Brady for four games.
Brady was asked three times about his opinion and relationship with President Trump and side-stepped a response each time by saying, “I just want to focus on the positive aspects of this game and my teammates and the reasons why we’re here. And Belichick would only say, “I’m focused on our team and for getting ready for Sunday.” PR spinmeisters call that “staying on message.”
Is this good or bad? Depends. If you’re doing PR for the NFL, it’s good. “Avoid controversy. There’s no win with any answer. You’ll anger at least 50% of the audience and the ones you delight won’t matter. It’s eyes on the tube, rear-ends in the seats, and happy advertisers who are paying $5 million for a 30-second ad.” If you’re in the media, you want a juicy quote and controversy, not a bland corporate response. We’re now in the Trump Tweet world so let’s get a little edgy. That’s my take. To the NFL and Patriots, it’s a game strategy that says, “better safe than sorry.”
Atlanta Falcons’ outside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell put it best when asked how to avoid the media trap questions and politics. “Just really stay out of the social media world because you kind of get sucked into it,” he said, according to the NFL news conference transcript. “You kind of start believing in some of the stuff you see. So I stay in my own little world and I do what I need to do and just try to stay out of everybody else’s business, to be honest.”
Now that’s an honest answer and authentically expressed.
As to the Patriots and NFL, go figure.
Here’s the NY Times take: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/31/sports/football/super-bowl-nfl-donald-trump-new-england-patriots.html