This past week, Bleacher Report ran an eye-opening investigative report. Titled “Donald Trump Is Tearing the NFL Apart,” reporter Mike Freeman interviewed dozens of NFL players about the 2016 election—and how the candidacy of Trump, who has a long history of racism towards “the blacks” (his words), has divided locker rooms along racial lines and ruined many a friendship among teammates. When Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan introduced Trump at a rally in Buffalo, New York, this April, several of the black players on his team were put off. “I see Trump as someone who is hostile to people of color, and the fact that Rex supports him made me look at him completely differently, and not in a positive way,” one Bills player remarked.
Which brings us to the face of the NFL: Tom Brady. For the past several weeks, the New England Patriots quarterback has been living his best life, laying out on yachts in Italy with his supermodel wife Gisele as he serves his four-game “Deflategate” suspension. According to the terms of the suspension, Brady has not been allowed to “engage in any team football-related activities or discussions with teammates, even if away from the club facility,” according to NFL VP of Communications Brian McCarthy.
Today, Brady will make his long-awaited return to the Patriots’ starting lineup against the Cleveland Browns, and over the past week has been able to engage in talks with his teammates—which means that, as the presidential race reaches the home stretch, they can finally grill him on his longstanding support of Donald Trump.
Last September, a reporter at Barstool Sports snapped a photo of one of Trump’s signature red “Make America Great Again” hats prominently displayed in Brady’s locker. For a celebrity as media-savvy as Brady, this didn’t seem like a mistake.
Brady called the hat a “nice keepsake” and, when asked if Trump would be president, replied, “I hope so. That would be great. There’d be a putting green on the White House lawn. I know that.” Trump responded in kind, calling the endorsement “a great honor” on Twitter:
This, of course, came before many of Trump’s more incendiary comments against Muslims, immigrants, African-Americans, and women—including a recently unearthed video from 2005 of the Republican presidential bragging about sexually assaulting women, saying he could “grab them by the pussy” at will due to his celebrity. And Brady, amid growing backlash, walked back the endorsement two weeks later, calling it an “offhanded comment” and claiming he’s still undecided on who he’ll vote for in the general.
That didn’t stop Trump from publicly touting Brady’s support of his candidacy. In a December interview with The Washington Post, the former reality show host bragged about the Brady endorsement, claiming that Brady sings his praises “to anyone who asks him.”
“In Massachusetts, I’m at 48 percent. You know why? Tom Brady said Trump’s the greatest,” said Trump. “He says it to anyone who asks him. You know, it’s hard for a guy like him to say that. When you’re a football player, you don’t want to be taking sides in campaigns and having the Hillary [Clinton] people now say you’re not as good as Bart Starr. You understand. So Tom Brady is great.”
Brady addressed Trump’s comments in an interview days later with WEEI, just after Trump proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting.
“Donald is a good friend of mine. I have known him for a long time. I support all my friends. That is what I have to say. He’s a good friend of mine. He’s always been so supportive of me,” said Brady. “For the last 15 years, since I judged a beauty pageant for him, which was one of the very first things that I did that I thought was really cool that came along with winning the Super Bowl. He’s always invited me to play golf and I’ve always enjoyed his company. I support all my friends in everything they do. I think it’s pretty remarkable what he’s achieved in his life. You’re going from business, kind of an incredible businessman and then a TV star, and then getting into politics. It’s three different career paths. I think that is pretty remarkable.”
The “beauty pageant” Brady is referring to is the 2002 Miss USA pageant. It occurred in March, just one month after Brady, in his first year as a starting QB, led the Patriots to a last-second win over the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI—this despite being 14-point underdogs. A 2002 Sports Illustrated cover story on Brady, titled “The Natural,” detailed how Trump flew Brady out to Gary, Indiana, in his private jet to judge the pageant. He also took it upon himself to comment on Brady’s gaggle of female admirers. “If one thing stands out about Tom Brady,” Trump told SI, “it’s that he loves those women. And guess what? They love him, too.”
Trump even went as far as offering up his own daughter, Ivanka, to Brady on Howard Stern’s radio show, telling the host he tried to talk her up to Brady during the Miss USA pageant. When asked about the Stern comments in a 2004 interview with Playboy, Trump replied: “I think he’s a great character. I got to know him when he was a judge at a jitterbug contest I entered after the Patriots won the Super Bowl,” said Trump. “He’s a winner, and by that I mean every time he needs to make the pass he makes it. You have other guys in the NFL and in life who have all the equipment but don’t make the pass. I think Tom’s a great guy, and I think he and Ivanka would make a great combination.”
Ever since that fateful day ogling women together in Gary, Indiana, Trump and Brady have remained golf buddies and close pals.
“You know, he always gives me a call and different types of motivational speeches at different times,” Brady told WEEI last September. “We’ve had a lot of time on the golf course together over the years. Probably not as much recently, but in my younger days when I would have more time that I could spend doing those types of things, before there were kids, we spent a lot of time golfing together and so forth.”
Trump, for his part, has remained one of Brady’s staunchest supporters throughout the “Deflategate” ordeal, tweeting constantly about the perceived injustice of it all, and even recording a video at his desk urging his pal to “sue the hell out of the NFL for defamation” to the tune of $250 million.
And the real estate heir’s close friendship with the superstar quarterback has paid serious dividends for candidate Trump—at least according to Trump.
In a March interview with The New York Times, Trump credited his friendship with Brady as playing an “enormous” role in helping him win the Massachusetts GOP primary by a wide margin, taking home 49.3 percent of the vote (31 percentage points higher than the runner-up, John Kasich).
“Honestly, in that part of the world, a reference like Tom Brady saying Trump’s the biggest winner, Trump is a friend of mine, that makes an incredible difference,” said Trump. “Tom Brady is a great friend of mine. He’s a winner and he likes winners. He was very helpful to us in Massachusetts on Tuesday.”
It’s not just Brady, either. Both New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft and coach Bill Belichick are also staunch supporters of Trump, with Kraft praising “good friend” Trump ahead of the Massachusetts primary, and Belichick flashing a rare smile during a celebratory dinner with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago club following his Massachusetts primary win.
The Trump-Brady bromance seemed to reach its apex in June, when Trump teased to the press that Brady would be joining him at the Republican National Convention. Brady later declined the invite.
Even though Brady hasn’t formally endorsed Trump, the incendiary candidate was touting the QB’s endorsement as recently as August in closed-door meetings with well-heeled donors in Massachusetts, according to Sports Illustrated.
“I have Tom Brady,” Trump reportedly told groups in Nantucket, Cape Cod, and New Hampshire. “And [Hillary] doesn’t. We have Tom Brady on our side.”