Thursday, June 10, 2010

Small Time in a Big Time World -- Being Tom Brady

At the end of the last century, there was a very quirky movie, filled with quirky characters, called "Being John Malkovich," in which a puppeteer discovered a portal that led into the mind of the famous "Dangerous Liaisons" actor.

He and a friend (who is also the object of his lust) try to channel this portal into a business. For 15 minutes, you can step into the mind of John Malkovich and experience all that he experiences.

I don't know enough about the movie to know why on earth the object of their fascination was John Malkovich. I mean, he's all right, I guess. But if I wanted to crawl inside someone's head and walk around for 15 minutes, I'd pick someone other than John Malkovich's. Anytime anyone asks me if I've ever wondered what it was like being someone else, I always say sure. I'd love to know what it's like to be Bono for a day.

I've always been fascinated by people who, by the nature of what they say or do, have enormous power over people. I once saw The Who back in The Day, and wondered, as I was watching them sing the finale to "Tommy," what it must be like being Roger Daltry ... up there singing a song that just drives people wild with frenzy. For all I (or anyone) knew at the time, Roger Daltry could have been the world's leading miscreant (he was not). But none of that mattered. He was belting out "listening to you, I get the music ..." and the audience was just going insane. He could have stopped and shrieked, "Heil, Hitler!" and the fans would have gone right on screaming and cheering.

Watching Bono at the 2002 Super Bowl, singing "It's A Beautiful Day," and "Where the Streets Have No Name" gave me the same feeling. What must it be like, I wondered, to have that power over people? And, of course, Bono has not been shy about using that power either. He's not shy about making grandiose, political statements. And unlike many others who have a similar pulpit, Bono has shown, over the years, some pretty good judgment when it comes to using his. He's also tasteful and poignant about it, too. When U2 did "Where the Streets Have No Name," the names of the 9/11 victims were scrolled on a large screen that hung above the stage.

I've also wondered, over the years, what it must be like being Tom Brady. What happens to you when you become everybody's Golden Boy? How do you go through life being the star of the TMZ show, the object of the paparazzi everywhere you go, the object of every woman's fantasies? How do you not end up with feelings of entitlement?

Ask Ben Roethlesberger about that. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback isn't quite in Brady's league when it comes to overall celebrity (though he's a pretty damn good quarterback), yet he obviously feels it's OK to herd women into rest rooms and have his way with them. Ask every pro athlete who walks around as if the world was created to cater every one of his whims and wishes. Ask Roger Clemens, who once complained about having to carry his luggage through airports (as if he were above that sort of thing).

One of the reasons I like doing what I do -- even though I'll never get rich going it -- is that I see this phenomenon from the ground floor on up. I see teenagers, some of whom are already developing this attitude, and there's still a chance, at this level, to save them (hopefully) from making the same mistakes as a guy like Big Ben.

Toward that end, when we find out about it, we don't sugarcoat so-called "typical teenage transgressions." In other words, if you're caught drinking, or you've flunked off the team (and I don't care what anyone says, to flunk two subjects within a quarter takes more effort, sometimes, than to pass them) we will note it somewhere in a story. Tastefully. And as unobtrusively as the situation allows. But we will note it.

How can you not? You're doing nobody any favors by consciously enabling kids and giving them the impression that their status -- even as amateur athletes in the high school fishbowl -- absolves them of full accountability if they knowingly violate rules that end up affecting their teams (not to mention them).

I bring up Brady because in today's Boston Herald, there is an item in the "Inside Track," which is the paper's gossip column, about the Patriots quarterback hob-nobbing with a couple of celebrity-wannabes at the Celtics game.

Brady, apparently, thinks he's the long-lost Beatle, judging from the haircut he's sporting these days. And, of course, Brady, being a celebrity, is made it his point to look like a celebrity. Leather jacket. Intricately styled hair ... the whole works.

The first time I saw the leather jacket was in the interview room after a Patriots game. Brady walked into the room wearing it, and I remember thinking to myself that the jacket probably cost more than my house. But otherwise, it didn't bother me much. He gets paid a ton of money for what he does, and while some people find that obscene, I do not.

Why? Because what he does, as insignificant as it may seem to some people, isn't that insignificant. For three hours a day, he unites some pretty diverse elements of his rooting region. You could take the most ardent Tea Party conservatives and sit them next to Rachel Maddow clones, in a bar, from 1 to 4 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, and the sharp elbows and knees to the groin (figuratively) that politics have become would take a back seat if they were all Patriots fans.

Sports unite us. And that's a very good thing. And if Tom Brady is willing to risk serious injury (and I'd say tearing up your knee is a serious injury) for the sake of the mental well-being of fans ... for the sake of giving us three hours of controlled passion, and even controlled fury, then what he does is very valuable.

You may question the mentality of fans who pour so much of themselves into these games. I question it all the time, and I'm one of them (don't ever watch a game around me.
You take your life in your hands. I can through things with the best of them.

When the Patriots won that 2002 Super Bowl, they had to do it after they'd blown a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter. I was drinking cup of water at the time the St. Louis Rams scored the tying touchdown, and I slammed it down on my desk so hard the water came gushing out of the cup ... and onto the lap of co-worker Paul Lenzie.

I have been known to fuss and fume for an hour after a tough Red Sox loss, like the time Carl Everett of the Red Sox stupidly ran into the third out of game in the ninth inning ... before the tying run could score.

That was one of my better ones. I was still steaming an hour after the game, and every time I'd see a replay, or someone would bring it up, I'd be steamed all over again.

If sports can take people's minds off how much they hate each other, or are jealous of each other, or can't stand the fact that "they" get more than "us," and focus them on a common bond, then that can only be a good thing. My father and I went through the obligatory period when nothing he said or did made any sense to me at all. We'd clash when we got up in the morning, and we'd still clash when we went to bed at night. But we always set aside the battles when it came to the Red Sox. It was the one thing we had that we could share.

For that, and that alone, I think pro athletes deserve anything anyone's willing to give them. And when you consider the fact that they're raking enormous risks to do it, and that their career shelf lives are extremely limited, well, if Bob Kraft's willing to break the bank for Tom Brady, who's to argue?

Besides, there's a downside to all of this. And one of them is opening up the paper in the morning, or reading someone's blog on line, and finding yourself the topic of conversation for all the wrong reasons.

Brady is a terrific football player. One of the best who's ever played here, at least. But otherwise, he's a guy ... and, as such, he's done some things, and made some decisions, that haven't exactly put him in the best of lights.

He was in a relationship with Bridget Moynahan and, apparently, ended it when she became pregnant. Now, this has never happened before, right? Nobody ever walks away from a relationship because of an impending birth.

It isn't exactly noble. And in fact, if the circumstances are all wrong, people in this situation have been advised, time and again, not to go ahead and get married because of a pregnancy.

So there's conflict on this issue. Yet when it happened to Brady, these Track Girls treated him as if he'd axe murdered the woman's family. There's no indication, that I can see, that Brady has neglected this boy. I'm sure that the boy will be well provided for. Yet because he plays quarterback for the New England Patriots, and isn't in California at all times at this kid's side, he's treated, and written about, as if he's the world's worse absentee, deadbeat dad. It's irresponsible on the part of the Herald. But more than that, it's the drawback to celebrity.

Not everyone's cut out for that kind of celebrity, and I swear the ones who aren't eventually rebel and do some awfully strange things. Exhibit A: Brittney Spears. Exhibit B: Lindsay Lohan. Exhibit C: Michael Jackson. Exhibit B: Take your pick. The world's full of them.

Strangely, I think Brady's more equipped for this kind of life than many people. He seems to be able to stand up well under the microscope of fame, and still remain a fairly unflappable person. No doubt, he's got the drill down. He never says anything the least bit controversial. He's going through a contract negotiation now that's complicated by the byzantine NFL labor situation, yet you don't hear him mouthing off about it.

He's not one to point fingers. There's no Peyton Manning "if my linemen would only block for me" moments. If a receiver drops the the ball when it's right in his mitts (the way Reche Caldwell did in the 2007 AFC championship game), you don't hear Brady complaining about it to reporters afterward. When Randy Moss stunk out the joint so badly in a game last year that you'd have thought there was a sanitation workers strike in Foxborough, Massachusetts, Brady didn't get up there kick the hell out of him during the press conference afterward.

He plays the game hard. He's played it well. And for the most part, he's conducted himself well off the field. Yet every time he takes a breath, he's in the "Inside Track," and usually with some snide remark accompanying the pictures as if he's doing something wrong.

I just want to know: What's he doing wrong? He's a multi-millionaire in his early 30s, in a job that gives him plenty of time to enjoy the money and fame ... and he appears to be doing that in very healthy, mature ways. What is so terrible about showing up at a basketball game with a Hollywood haircut and a leather jacket that costs more than my house? Hell, if I had his money, his looks, his fame, and his time, I'd be there too.

I just don't see the problem.

Tell you what, Inside Track gals ... when Tom Brady is accused of rape and ends up having to confess that, yes, he had sex with the woman but it was consensual (like Kobe Bryant); and when he gets hit with the charge of herding a woman into a rest room, and getting rough with her to boot (like Roethlesberger); or when he gets implicated in a murder and somehow manages to walk way form it (like Ray Lewis), or when he injures of kills someone because he got behind the wheel while he was drunk (too many to name), then you can cluck your tongues all over the gossip pages of Boston Herald.

Otherwise, find something else to write about, because you look like damned idiots every time you write about Tom Brady in this manner.

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