Against the backdrop of a looming constitutional crisis and the largest mass protests in a generation, a football game is being played this weekend.
The contrast between what's happening at airports and in Washington D.C. and what will be happening in Houston this week is stark. It feels almost wrong to start paying attention to the Super Bowl. At a time when green-card holders -- some of them children -- are being detained at airports, when protests are a weekly occurrence, when our notions of a working constitutional republic seem to be at best wobbly, asking grown men about a game feels like a huge exercise in vacuous ephemerality.
Because, of course, it is.
The contrast between the work journalists and lawyers are doing in airport concourses and the work reporters are doing in a football stadium will be stark.
Because, of course, it is.
But just because sports writing is about an ultimately trivial subject doesn't mean it's something we can't care about or do well. It doesn't mean the real world can't touch be felt at Super Bowl world.
Asking players at the Super Bowl for their opinion on the Muslim ban or the protests is certainly a natural story. But there’s limited value in it. It forces players to speak on an issue they may not be comfortable with or have thought about (pro athletes are famously tunnel visioned). It also leads to the "some are in favor, some are opposed" story that has absolutely no value to readers.
Now if a player has been outspoken - about this or other issues - then it's more fair game to ask them. As a reader, I'd be interested in what, say, Richard Sherman has to say. Or Richie Incognito. Or Jim Kelly. Or Rex Ryan
Which of course brings us to Tom Brady.
Brady's a tough call. He's never been particularly vocal on social issues. He's a focused pro athlete straight from the Bill Belichick school of do-your-job. He also displayed a Make America Great Again hat in his locker (of his own volition) and told reporters it'd be great if Donald Trump were elected.
So I hope Brady gets asked about it this week. "Do you still think it's great that Trump was elected? Do you support the Muslim ban? About 3 percent of NFL players are Muslim. What would you say to them?"
Is that fair?
Brady brought himself into the public eye on this issue the second he put that hat in his locker and talked about Trump with reporters. He did that of his own accord. Once you do that, you lose all right to say, “It’’s not fair to ask me that." When you voluntarily put yourself in the public eye over an issue, reporters have a duty to ask you about it. It doesn't matter if you think, "Ah he won't say anything about it." Our job begins with asking questions. That's what we do.
This isn't about capturing Brady in an ah-ha, j'accuse type moment. We do that too often as journalists. "Ah ha! You said this thing and now explain yourself!!" It's not about getting Brady. It's about holding him accountable for what he said and did. (And I think the same should be done to Kelly, my boyhood idol, in case you think this is a Brady thing). If he deflects the questions or shrugs it off or just wants to talk about football, that’s fine. Brady doesn’t have a responsibility to comment on it. But reporters do have a responsibility to ask the question.
Brady didn't have to have that hat on display in his locker and he didn't have to publicly support trump. But he did. So now that Trump is president and making controversial decisions leading to nationwide protests and a looming constitutional crisis, it's our job to ask him about it.
Failure to do so will make the gap between what's happening in the real world and in Houston feel even greater than it already does.