The Universal Notebook: The politics of sports

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The lines are being drawn. Sides are being chosen. The game is on.

A few weeks ago my fellow Forecaster columnist Steve Woods explained why he can no longer be friends with someone who supports Donald Trump. This week I must explain why Tom Brady should be suspended for four games for the same reason.

To be the greatest quarterback of all time – rich, handsome, and married to a supermodel to boot – is not enough to redeem one for going over to the dark side, where Tom Terrific joins hipster hoopster Dennis Rodman, guber-wrestler Jesse Ventura, bad boy footballer Terrell Owens, Mike Ditka of Da Bears, long-forgotten Heisman winner Hershel Walker and hard-hitting, heavyweight golfer John Daly in support of wealthy celebrity candidate Donald J. Trump.

I defended Brady for trying to cover up Deflategate by destroying his cellphone. I defended him for seeking an unfair advantage. But when the All American Boy announced that he supports the Ugly American Trump I suddenly no longer cared if the Patriots won or lost or if Brady had to serve a four-game suspension for cheating.

“I support all my friends in everything they do,” Brady said of Trump, who he apparently met when Trump invited him to help judge female flesh in one of The Donald’s beauty pageants. “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 a pretty different career path. I think that is pretty remarkable.”

I had a similar reversion on former Red Sox hurler Curt Schilling when he came out as a conservative Republican. He can keep the bloody World Series sock, and the bloody ring as well. Schilling showed his true colors when he took $75 million of taxpayer money in Rhode Island before his game business went belly up.

The incredible things about Schilling is that he now blames his political conservatism for the fact that he has not been voted into the Hall of Fame since he became eligible in 2013. When fellow pitcher and broadcaster John Smoltz got in last year and he didn’t, Schilling complained that Smoltz got in because he was a liberal Democrat. (Note: Smoltz is no such thing.)

Athletes should probably stay out of politics until their playing days are over. No one wants to know who or what a jock supports. And it can diminish sports heroes in the eyes of their fans when they turn out to be on the opposing team. Tough to think quite the same of Celtics’ great Bob Cousy, America’s darling Dorothy Hamill and retiring QB Peyton Manning if you know they backed Romney in 2012. And it’s easier to comprehend 1976 Olympic decathlon gold medalist Bruce “Cait” Jenner being transgendered than it is to imagine that she is a conservative Republican.

In their professional sports afterlives, a bunch of ballers have gone into elected politics, among them Bills’ quarterback Rep. Jack Kemp, R-New York; Seahawks’ receiver Rep. Steve Largent, R-Oklahoma; Tigers’ pitcher Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Kentucky, and Knicks’ small forward Sen. Bill Bradley, D-New Jersey.

Bradley is a Princeton grad and a Rhodes Scholar, a 1964 Olympic gold medalist, an NBA star from 1965-1977, and a U.S. senator from 1979-1997. His nickname was Dollar Bill, not because he was all about money, but because he lived so simply and frugally as a player. He was a thinking man’s player, his senior year in college celebrated in John McPhee’s 1965 “A Sense of Where You Are.”

So where are you now that we need you, Dollar Bill?

To my mind, Bradley would have made a perfect president of the United States. Tall, modest, thoughtful, supremely intelligent and a three-term senator, he is one of the few public figures in my lifetime I would regard as presidential timber. But when Bradley ran in the Democratic primary in 2000 as the liberal alternative to Al Gore (if you can imagine such a thing), he failed to carry a single state and dropped out of the race on March 9, 16 years ago today (as I write).

Bradley apparently continues to write, speak and broadcast, but I hadn’t thought about him much until last year when, in the midst of the Tom Brady Deflategate controversy, Bradley admitted he sometimes deflated basketballs to make them easier to handle and rebound.

I forgive you, Dollar Bill. Not you, Shady Brady.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.