What Makes Tom Brady So Polarizing?

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At age 44, Tom Brady is finally hanging up his cleats after 21 seasons. The former quarterback, who won a Super Bowl in 2021 with Tampa Bay but played most of his career with New England, announced his retirement after the Buccaneers’ loss to the Los Angeles Rams on January 23, 2022. Exiting the league with many records to his name, Brady’s stats — like 96,969 passing yards, 707 touchdowns and 7 rings — already make him one of the greatest to ever lace up. 

Yet, few athletes considered “the greatest” in their sport have been this divisive among fans. When discussing Babe Ruth, Serena Williams, Michael Jordan and other top athletes, any debate would focus on one’s stats and accomplishments. With Brady, his likability is usually discussed hand-in-hand with his on field ability. 

For him, it’s never just about numbers on a stat report. The icon has appeared in blockbuster films, been the face of entire ad campaigns and appeared in plenty of tabloids. As Brady found success in the NFL, nearly every aspect of his life’s been put under a microscope. Even before his retirement, he’d been the subject of countless debates. But why exactly is Tom Brady so polarizing? Let’s look at some of the tenser topics he’s crossed paths with. 

The “Brady Rule” Changed the NFL Forever

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For much of Brady’s career, opponents speculated that referees called more “roughing the passer” penalties on those rushing Brady than anyone else. Was Brady untouchable because no one was allowed to tackle him? 

This tension heightened into a full-on rule change in 2009. Brady spent a season injured because a defensive lineman lunged at his legs and hurt Brady’s knee. This happened to other players, too, like Carson Palmer in 2006. When the NFL made it illegal to lunge at a quarterback like that, fans referred to it as “Brady Rule”.

In 2009, Bleacher Report, among other critics, famously declared that this new rule would “kill football” and ruin the game forever. The league has since made other types of hits illegal; all of these changes received similar backlash, but they were made in favor of player safety. The NFL has since grown by adding more regular season games all while raking in tons of profits, so the league is doing just fine. 

Tom Brady Was Once the Face of UGG Slippers

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Nowadays, Brady is doing ads for Subway and crypto websites, but in 2010 he was one of the faces for UGG, the Australian company known for boots and slippers. The company is a staple down under, but UGG gear can be just as polarizing as Brady himself in the states. For a while, there was a viral trend where people photoshopped pictures of UGG slippers over Brady’s cleats. This trend picked up whenever Brady lost a Super Bowl or other big game.  

According to Glamour, UGG is a brand that’s worn more by women than men. The NFL and fans often champion “traditional” (a.k.a. toxic) takes on masculinity, so people in that demographic didn’t respond well to an UGGs endorsement — no matter how warm and comfortable their slippers are. 

The Long Haircut Didn’t Help His Case

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A football player’s hair can enhance their career. Look at Troy Polamalu, a former Steeler who’s still doing Old Spice ads in 2022. Brady’s hair has been a journey — from buzzed to long to short again.  

In 2010, Brady’s hair was long enough to put into a bun. Some people who hated Brady loved his flow. Others despised the haircut, adding it to a list of reasons why they don’t like him. Perhaps toxic masculinity is at the root of some of the Brady hate today? 

#Deflategate Will Haunt Him and His Fans Forever 

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It all started on January 18, 2015. The New England Patriots were set to play the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl after they defeated the Indianapolis Colts. With a week off before Superbowl XLIX, the lead story dominating news cycles at that time revolved around Brady’s treatment of various footballs during the game against the Colts. 

The accusation? Brady and co. had deflated some of the balls a bit, making them easier to handle while on the offensive. Most sports leagues have standards for minimum inflation. The NFL is no different. After months of investigations, Brady was suspended for four games. The Patriots were fined $1 million and lost two drafts picks as well. Brady appealed the suspension and was able to play in every game that following season. However, that ruling was appealed again, and Brady was sidelined for four games in 2016 instead. 

A scandal like this put a giant question mark on Brady’s legacy. With so many different accolades under his belt, Brady’s Deflategate scandal left people wondering what they did and didn’t know about the iconic figure. 

His ‘TB12’ Meal Plan Is Strict — and a Little Weird 

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In 2017, Brady released The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance. Since then, people have not stopped talking about his diet. The quarterback has been quoted as saying that he’s never eaten a strawberry — but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The book offers strategies for injury reduction and healthy sleep cycles, but people just couldn’t get over what Brady and his family were eating. 

His meal plan excludes gluten, dairy, GMOs, corn, coffee, alcohol, trans fats, most sugars and more. It should be noted that the family does have a personal chef to help out with this lifestyle. While one’s diet should not be the basis for judging them, offering fans a meal plan that’s nearly inaccessible to everyday people isn’t great either. 

Tom Brady’s Politics Have Always Been a Hot Topic 

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Throughout Brady’s 22-year tenure, the league became a different place. What started as a “sticking to sports” mentality has shifted in recent years; in 2016, Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality, for example. That protest changed sports as they were known to us, and athletes, especially BIPOC players, became more vocal about systemic issues, empowered and made more visible by Kaepernick’s bold protest. 

In 2017, Brady did express his hope that Kaepernick could return to the NFL to CBS , but this could have been a matter of just saying the expected words. For example, Brady was known for having a ‘MAGA’ hat in his locker during the 2015 NFL season. When asked about the hat, Brady simply said that he enjoys golfing with Donald Trump and that Robert Kraft, the Patriots owner, placed the hat in his locker. Brady avoids political discourse, but is still associated with the hat to this day.

While Brady has never aligned with a political party, he has spoken out recently on the issue of Antonio Brown, who faked a vaccination card in order to play; Brady expressed sympathy for Brown’s mental health, but hasn’t said much else in the vaccine discourse. 

Clearly, when it comes to Tom Brady you can feel a number of ways. Although his NFL career has ended, he still has time to win haters over as a person — and we’re eager to see his next few moves. Whether on a screen or behind the scenes, Brady has all the tools to be as impactful off the field as he has been on it.