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Great as he is, Tom Brady is no saint

We shouldn’t excuse temper tantrums on the sidelines as a byproduct of excellence

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady yells at his team during the second half of an NFL football game against the Washington Football Team, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, in Landover, Md.
Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

Tom Brady’s petulant antics during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ loss to the New Orleans Saints Sunday night will be dismissed by some as a byproduct of the quarterback’s legendary intensity and his all-consuming desire to win.

Compared to bad behavior from other NFL players — including Brady’s current and previous teammates — throwing a tablet in frustration and cursing at opposing teams and referees is small potatoes.

But coming from the NFL’s marquee player, a man who is idolized by children across the nation, including his own, Brady’s behavior is unacceptable. We should ask more of our heroes, even when they lose.

Especially when they lose.

Brady was the epitome of the sore loser in a home-field loss that ESPN described as “stunning.” It was the first time he’d been shut out in 15 years and came just a week after he set yet another NFL record, this one for career completions. This was a disappointing loss, to be sure, for someone who famously hates to lose. And it came in the same week that actor Ben Affleck memorably described what it’s like to practice with the 44-year-old quarterback widely considered the GOAT.

“He was throwing the ball to me and I was praying to God, not just because I wanted to impress the guy — which I very much did — but because I thought I would really get hurt because it shows up right in front of your face,” Affleck said on the Bill Simmons podcast.

In that revealing quote, Affleck sums up both the admirable intensity with which Brady competes and also why Brady’s predictably angry behavior when things aren’t going well is a problem. Brady is a superhero in American culture, so much so that he even intimidates other A-list celebrities. Through this adoring lens, fans — and NFL executives, who rely on Brady for ratings — want to laugh off his temper tantrums, which have resulted in apologies in years past and even a broken TV, according to Scott Davis’s report on things that Brady has thrown in anger.

Because no one holds Brady accountable, the tantrums continue.

Some people on Twitter have tried, pointing out that this sort of behavior is childish at best and that Brady seems to enjoy a double standard when people excuse it. As one person wrote, “It’s always ‘passion’ with him. ... Other players are labeled as out of control, insubordinate or bad teammates.”

Another Twitter user pointed out that Brady acts like his former boss, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who has also been known to throw things in frustration and is famously bad tempered.

There are plenty of Brady haters in the world, and I, as a Patriots fan, confess to mixed feelings about him. But you can be a devoted fan and still cringe at this sort of behavior. And Belichick at least apologized Monday for being rude to the press after the Patriots’ loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday.

Brady doesn’t seem to think an apology for his own behavior is necessary. His first tweet on Monday was congratulating a friend, the singer known as The Weeknd (the 2021 Super Bowl halftime performer), for the success of his song “Blinding Lights.” That’s nice. Friends are important. But so is being mindful of your behavior when you’re a father and an American sports hero with millions of young fans.

Even better than an apology would be a vow to accept the occasional interception or loss with something resembling dignity. For someone who doesn’t experience humiliation very often, it doesn’t seem like an especially onerous ask.