Why You Really Hate Tom Brady


Illustration by Kelsey Dake

October 4, 2016

Like any seasoned sports executive who owns and operates a major franchise, Jeanie Buss approaches the annual draft with strong ideas of what her team wants—and definitely does not want. Throughout her decades with the Los Angeles Lakers, she has seen the highs of landing studs (from Magic Johnson to James Worthy to Kobe Bryant) and the lows of bombing (Earl Jones, anyone?). She can tell you myriad stories about character, about work ethic, about the impact one small piece can have on the future path of an organization.

She does not merely gauge prospects by statistics or measurements. No, when Buss considers adding someone to her team, no character traits are taken for granted.

Which is why, as the decadelong owner of Team United of both the Die Hard Fantasy Football League and the Grid Iron Girls Fantasy Football League, Buss has steadfastly refused to draft Tom Brady.

“It’s nothing personal,” she says. “I just find him annoying.”

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Tom Brady warms up on the sidelines during a preseason game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on September 1, 2016.

Buss, on the phone from Los Angeles, chuckles with those words because she realizes how bonkers they sound. I ask, casually, if there are others she would not allow to wear the nonexistent helmet and uniform of Team United.

“Well, I won’t draft Ben Roethlisberger,” she says, citing his history of alleged sexual assault. “I’d rather lose without him than win with him. And I won’t take anyone who plays for the Washington NFL team because I don’t want to say the name. That organization needs to change…”

There is a pause. Buss is one of the NBA’s best talkers, a media godsend who rarely pulls punches or dodges inquiries. She’s smart, forthright and engaging. Yet here, with this topic, she is struggling. Roethlisberger’s history is easily viewed. Washington’s history is also well-documented. But what, exactly, does she have against the New England quarterback?


“You…ah…it’s…um…um…it’s probably…eh…well, I don’t know,” she says. “Maybe it’s a holdover from my dislike of the Celtics from the Larry Bird time. Or…mmm…um…I don’t know what it is. He’s just too successful, too smug, too much of a winner.”

Another pause.

“Honestly,” she says, “I’m sort of ashamed to admit it. Because he’s probably a nice guy. But I hate Tom Brady.”

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Tom Brady celebrates after defeating the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Getty Images)

With those words, Buss laughs and laughs and laughs. Beneath the lightness of the sentiment, however, is a confounding truth: People hate Tom Brady. They hate his smile, his giggle, his chin dimple, his walk, his talk. They hate that he’s rich and successful. They hate that he’s tall and handsome. They hate that he’s married to a famous model. They hate that he dresses out of a J. Crew catalogue. They hate that, like a Ken doll, he’s gone through 124 hairstyles (Skater Tom Brady. Surfer Tom Brady. Preppy Tom Brady. Lumberjack Tom Brady). They hate that he has won four Super Bowls. They hate that his coach is a brooding rumpled sweatshirt and that the red cap in Brady’s locker reads (or did for a brief spell) MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.

They consider him to be a cheater, a liar, a symbol of all that’s bad in professional football. A recent (and admittedly unscientific) Sporting News ranking of the 40 all-time most hated players had Brady fifth—behind Greg Hardy, Ndamukong Suh, Terrell Owens and Michael Vick—all of whom have more obvious reasons to be higher on the list than Brady.

In other words, people really, really, really, really, really, really, really hate Tom Brady.

But why?

✦ ✦ ✦

There is a strange thing we do in America, and while the phenomenon has repeatedly been explained away with peppy-yet-cliched responses, a legitimate reasoning seems hard to come by.

Namely: What’s the deal with our irrational loathing of professional athletes?

If one considers it from a base level, the whole thing makes little sense. These are not (generally) people who have committed murder, or embezzlement, or armed robbery. They have not made your dough vanish in some Ponzi scheme, or insulted your mother’s breath on social media, or spit in your pumpkin spice latte, or clogged your toilet.

No, a professional athlete is merely a man or woman with advanced physical skills who performs on a high level while wearing glorified pajamas. He or she is paid a substantial amount of money to utilize those talents in front of large crowds in a region that (with rare exception) has little connection to their upbringing or development.

Babe Ruth, the legendary Yankee, was a kid from Baltimore. Walter Payton, one of the greatest running backs in NFL history, starred for the Chicago Bears via Columbia, Mississippi. Blake Griffin is in Los Angeles by way of Oklahoma City, and Russell Wilson, Seattle’s favorite son, is straight out of Cincinnati.

Tom Brady, New England Patriot, was born and raised in San Mateo, California. He is as Boston as a pulled pork sandwich.

"I’m sort of ashamed to admit it. Because he’s probably a nice guy. But I hate Tom Brady."


“And that’s what makes it all confusing,” says Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. “Logically, even if we can’t stand the Patriots, why would we hate a person from California playing football for a team in New England? He’s not even from there. It wasn’t his choice to go there. But hate isn’t logical. It’s emotional, and it revolves around emotion and symbols. If you hate a certain team, you hate the symbol of that team. And the symbol is usually the star player.”

Levin doesn’t stop there. Anointing detestation upon a professional athlete usually means making a (sometimes conscious, sometimes subconscious) decision to irrationally assign character traits that have nothing to do with the sport itself. One decides the target of angst is a bad person, a liar, a jerk, a fraud.

“We see a man in his 50s drive by in a Ferrari, and our first thought is, ‘Look at that douche going through his midlife crisis,” says Mike Cernovich, author of Gorilla Mindset, a self-help book that helps people control their emotions. “Well, maybe he was a poor kid who worked hard his whole life and can finally afford his dream vehicle. But we don’t want to see that. We want to think of every reason to bring someone down to our level.

“I’m not a big sports guy. But with Tom Brady, it seems like people have come up with a lot of reasons.”



“God, I hate Tom Brady!”

The voice emerges from the background. It is coming from a woman. She is screaming.


“Can’t stand him!”


I am on the phone with Tommy Shaw, the longtime singer and guitarist from the rock band Styx. He is a man who cares little about the inner workings of professional football, but a man whose wife of 16 years, Jeanne Shaw, loves the game and abhors New England’s quarterback.

I have called Tommy because there is an oft-cited reason for the overwhelming dislike of Brady, and it has to do with guilt by association. Ever since he replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001, then led the Patriots to the team’s first Super Bowl championship, Brady has been affiliated with Bill Belichick, the inarguably successful head coach who, over the years, has been likened to (among others) Darth Vader, Darth Sidious, Dick Cheney, Richard Nixon, Tony Soprano and, of course, Satan.

Well before the two major New England scandals (Spygate and Deflategate) sealed his reputation for many, Belichick was disliked by the masses for being standoffish, dismissive and rude. Gary Myers, the longtime New York Daily News football writer, is known as one of journalism’s most agreeable souls. But when asked about Belichick, he doesn’t hold back.

“He’s my least favorite person in the league,” Myers says. “He’s extremely condescending and disrespectful to people. He always shows up 20 minutes late just because he can.”

Myers, who authored Brady vs Manning, a book about the relationship between two legendary quarterbacks, thinks of Brady as one of football’s most likable players. “People associate him with Bill,” says Myers. “That has to have a bearing on how people perceive him. It’s guilt by association.”

This, Tommy Shaw can understand. Back in the early to mid-1990s, Shaw was a member of the band Damn Yankees, a four-man outfit that included Ted Nugent, the veteran singer/guitarist whose irrational alt-right rants have made him one of music’s most controversial figures. Nugent’s quotations range in subject from women ("What’s a feminist? Some fat pig who doesn’t get it often enough?") to African-Americans (“I use the word n----r a lot because I hang around with a lot of n----rs, and they use the word n----r.”), and Shaw admits they made him cringe.

“Is there a risk in being grouped in?” he says. “Sure. ... I was always amazed—like, why does Ted hate [former attorney general] Janet Reno so much? But at the end of the day I was just in a band with Ted, and I like to think people associated what he said just with him.”

I ask Shaw if it’s kosher to pair Brady with Belichick, and as he pauses to ponder, Jeanne pounces. “He’s full of s--t!” she yells. “What you get with one you get from the other!”

But is that fair? Is it copacetic to hate a player because you hate his coach? Should we gauge the behavior of one by the behavior of his inseparable associate? Was Wayne Chrebet a turd because he played alongside Keyshawn Johnson? Were Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire emotional and psychological equals, worthy of identical praise and scorn?

“When you’re a package, you’re doomed to being seen as one and the same,” says Mike Bryan, who, along with twin brother Bob, has dominated doubles tennis for much of the past decade. “I’m not saying that just as a sibling who plays with a sibling. People like to package athletes. And if you win a lot, that can be great. But the negative feelings people have for Bill Belichick—I just don’t see why that goes over to Tom Brady. He didn’t choose his coach. You work with what you’re asked to work with.”


Tom Brady was born in 1977.

In many ways, this story predates him by, oh, 300 years.

Before the New England Patriots were the New England Patriots, and even before the word “patriot” was first used in any modern sense (it was initially cited in a 1773 letter by Benjamin Franklin), people held strongly negative opinions of those within the region located in the northeastern United States.

That’s because, roughly 150 years after the British first settled in New England between 1620 and 1630, there were (much like in the NFL, actually) aggressive expansion plans. “You had these big migration efforts, out of New England and into places that were already established by the Dutch,” says Liz Covart, a historian of early America. “So when New Englanders would migrate to a place like, say, Albany, New York, the people there would be like, ‘Where did you come from, and who are you to tell us what we’re doing wrong?’”

Indeed, according to Covart the New Englanders were “insufferable—it was a culture where everyone felt they were superior to others.”

“There was an idea of, ‘You’re not as good as we are,’” says Heather Cox Richardson, a professor of history at Boston College. “That cultural sense of Boston thinking itself better than elsewhere survived through the colonial era and persisted well into the 19th century. Then, when you had Harvard-educated John F. Kennedy elected president, and he puts his brother from Harvard in office, and they vacation on the Cape, and they have that old Boston accent...well, the Eastern establishment was—by many—absolutely hated.”

"Hating Tom Brady isn't just about hating Belichick or the Patriots or the fans dressed up as Revolutionary War soldiers with muskets and chants—it's about all of New England."


As is the case with many sociological phenomena, the implications seeped into sports. Buss, the Lakers owner, drifts back to her team’s 1980s rivalry with the Celtics and recalls an organization that “would do everything to gain an advantage—legal or not.” She insists the Celtics thought themselves to be holier than thou and still shudders at some of Boston’s dirtiest plays (a quick YouTube search for “McHale and Rambis” explains this one).

Others note that, in 1959, the Red Sox became the last major league organization to field a black player—12 years after Jackie Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers. And that, through the decades, myriad athletes have complained about the city’s treatment of African-Americans.

Says Amy Bass, a New Englander and professor of history at the College of New Rochelle: “It's about the sense of fandom instilled by the likes of the Dropkick Murphys, the unofficial band of the Red Sox, who promote an imagined sense of identity for a New England fan built on notions of white ethnic identity.

“Hating Tom Brady isn't just about hating Belichick or the Patriots or the fans dressed up as Revolutionary War soldiers with muskets and chants—it's about all of New England.”

The peculiar thing is that while Brady isn’t a native New Englander, he’s grouped with the population. Oh, he also attended the University of Michigan.

Wait. Michigan?

“The unique thing about that school is it’s always looking east,” says Susan Gray, an Arizona State professor and author of The Yankee West: Community Life on the Michigan Frontier. “It’s never compared itself to the University of Illinois or Wisconsin. No, it compares itself to Yale. The University of Michigan considers itself superior in everything. Everything. There’s a ‘We’re better than you’ mentality.

“It reminds people of New England.”


Speaking to Tom Brady’s father via phone is something of a trippy experience, because his name is also Tom Brady, and the two have identical voices.

It is only when Tom Brady Sr. begins to talk that one truly realizes how unalike the two can be. As is the way of his franchise, the Patriots star is measured with his words. He guards his privacy, lets few into his head, never tries to create waves or egg on opponents. His dad, however, is blessed with: A. Opinions; B. A blissfully out-of-order filter.

If you’re reading this article, you know that New England’s quarterback has missed the season’s first four games for his role in Deflategate—in the 2015 AFC Championship Game, the Patriots were accused of using deflated footballs in their 45-7 home romp over Indianapolis. Although Brady has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing (he called accusations “ridiculous”), NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell insisted there be a punishment.

So Brady has watched the Patriots play from home—and his father has seethed.

“I have a son who has been nothing but an absolute role model in the world of team sports,” the elder Brady says. “For 17 years, nobody has ever heard him rip a teammate or an opponent. Ever. He doesn’t fill the airwaves with advertisements. He doesn’t talk about himself. He is the consummate team player who works as hard as anybody in the league to achieve what he has striven for.

“But now his name is being dragged through the mud. His reputation is taking a beating. His name is there with Lance Armstrong and Ryan Lochte. And why?” According to Brady Sr., his son has repeatedly insisted to him he did nothing wrong. “I 100 percent believe him,” Brady Sr. says. “It’s the biggest frame-up in American sports history. It’s fraud. But Goodell has been caught in lies for so long now, whether it’s concussions or whatever else. You lie once, it’s bad. But he’s a habitual liar.”

With that, the father rests his case. But he knows the reality at hand. Despite the belief of many in the media that the NFL turned Deflategate into a witch hunt (Says Myers: “I honestly believe Tom had nothing to do with it.”), in the court of public opinion, Brady is guilty as charged. It’s part of the reason Buss doesn’t want him, part of the reason Shaw’s wife doesn’t like him, part of the reason an ABC News/ESPN poll from last year revealed that 76 percent of self-described avid fans supported the NFL’s decision to suspend Brady for four games.

“Cheating is a hard one for people to get past,” says Tyler Kepner, the longtime New York Times baseball writer. “It can certainly bring out the hate.”

"I have a son who has been nothing but an absolute role model in the world of team sports."


Interestingly, while to fans Brady may well be football’s Armstrong, among current and former players and coaches, Deflategate—much like the New Orleans Saints’ Bountygate—was greeted with a shrug and a sigh. There are two primary camps when it comes to Brady and alleged cheating: those who believe the NFL overstepped its boundaries and those who believe the prevalence of cheating is so widespread it matters not.

The leading voice in category B is John Teerlinck, a longtime NFL defensive line coach who retired in 2012 after 11 years with the Colts. In 27 total seasons in the league (four as a player, 23 on the sidelines), Teerlinck says he witnessed every sort of imaginable rules violation. Vaseline-coated jerseys? Check. Taping the practices of opposing teams? Check. Paying off players for vicious hits? Check. Deflating and inflating footballs? Check.

“Everyone—and I mean everyone—is guilty of doctoring and messing with footballs,” he says. “But the media makes a big deal out of something that’s not a big deal. At home games, I’ve seen teams take 50 footballs, put them in the sun, roll them around, scuff them up. I’ve seen kickers take 45-pound plates from the bench room, put the nose of the football through the weight and drop the ball through, just to break the nose off either end of the ball and un-stiff it. I can tell you stories about two-way glass divides where one team spies on the other. I can tell you about microphones in the visiting team’s locker room. I can tell you about guys coming in and taking pictures of what coaches write on the board. There’s no end to it.”

Were Teerlinck still coaching, he says he would have complained about the deflated footballs—“but not out of any real anger. I’d just want an edge.” Truth be told, the man who hated the majority of opposing quarterbacks (“It’s a position of wimps,” he says) doesn’t merely admire Brady. He loves him.

“When you’re good, people don’t like you,” says Teerlinck. “The cheating thing—that’s just bulls--t. Tom Brady is really good.”


For a brief spell in the late 1980s, the most hated “bad guy” in professional wrestling was “Ravishing” Rick Rude. By most accounts, Rude (Real name: Richard Erwin Rood) was a relatively ordinary human being. He wasn’t the biggest in the WWF, or the strongest, or the most technically adept grappler. His muscles didn’t rival those of Tito Santana. He couldn’t touch the mountainous presence that belonged to Andre the Giant.

“But he was the absolute perfect villain,” says Tommy Laughlin. “Maybe the best ever.”

Laughlin, a WWE veteran who performs under the name Tommy Dreamer, has seen his profession’s evildoers come and go like old newspapers. Many are forgotten the moment they leave the ring. But Rude, who died from heart failure in 1999 at age 40, is remembered.

“What made Rick unique is that he had the body, he had the looks, his character had a lot of money, he got the women, and when push came to shove, he delivered,” Laughlin says. “He had a hot wife, and people envied him. It’s exactly the same thing with Tom Brady. People don’t hate Tom Brady just because he’s a quarterback or because he’s a Patriot. No. It’s envy, and it’s jealousy. We want what he has, only we can’t attain it.

“Really, he is football’s Rick Rude.”

Of the 41 people interviewed for this article, 39 cited jealousy as the No. 1 reason for Brady’s general unpopularity. “Success breeds the desire to see someone fall,” says Tiki Barber, the former New York Giants halfback. “It’s an ugly part of human makeup. We want what we can’t have. And if we can’t have it, we hope others can’t have it, too.”

In this area, Brady’s measurables are off the charts:

• 15 seasons as a starter, six Super Bowl appearances, four Super Bowl wins.

• A recently signed two-year, $41 million contract extension with the Patriots.

• Endorsement deals totaling $8 million annually.

• Three beautiful children.

• Brazilian fashion model wife with an estimated net worth of $400 million.

• Two homes: a $4.5 million, 14,000-square-foot mansion in Brookline, Massachusetts, and a $14 million full-floor condominium at One Madison Avenue in Manhattan that he and his wife have listed at $17.25 million.

“He’s got it all,” says Barber. “We hate that.”

A quick scan of the social media landscape validates Barber’s point. The vast majority of internet criticism of Brady seems to do not with a poor throw or costly interception, but petty insults that make no real sense. Twitter is home to a seemingly endless supply of jokes about Brady’s chin, hair and wardrobe. Facebook, too, is a gathering place for anti-Brady rants.

Perhaps the best example of an envious cross-check comes from Chad Neidt, a Denver-based multimedia producer who, after his Broncos defeated New England in last season’s AFC title game, immediately wrote and recorded a song, “F--k You Tom Brady.” The accompanying video, also completed on the quick, has been viewed more than 44,000 times. It’s a genuinely funny project, and amid the tune’s myriad Brady smackdowns, one verse stands out:

To be honest

We’re a bunch of jealous d--ks

Who wish our lives amounted

To .001 percent of his

“It’s 100 percent jealousy,” says Neidt, a Broncos diehard. “That’s the heart of my hatred for him. His wife is gorgeous, he’s really good looking, and he’s one of the best to ever play quarterback. I actually have a ton of respect for the guy because he’s pretty classy on and off the field. But...you know. He’s Tom Brady, and I love the Broncos. So I need to hate him.”


On February 3, 2008, Eli Manning led the Giants to a stunning 17-14 victory over New England in Super Bowl XLII.

Within a month or so, Doug Ellin, the creator, producer and writer of the hit HBO series Entourage, received a call from New York’s quarterback asking if he could appear in a future episode. As a diehard Giants fan dating back to his boyhood in the Long Island town of Merrick, Ellin was beyond giddy. Soon, however, euphoria turned into panic. Ellin wrote a script that featured both Eli and Peyton Manning (at the brothers’ request) then never heard from them again.

“I’m at the office going crazy,” Ellin says. “Well, Mark Wahlberg (a Boston native and Entourage executive producer) was there, and he said, ‘We’ll just get Brady.’”

Brady? Brady!? What the hell was Ellin going to do with Tom Brady? He quickly phoned Jerry Ferrara, the Brooklyn-born actor who starred on the show as Turtle, and asked if they could reach out to one of his old neighborhood pals to get a New Yorker’s impression of Brady.

“So we dial the number,” Ellin says, “and we say—‘Quick, what’s your first thought about Tom Brady?’ Without pausing, the guy says, ‘He sucks balls.’ Perfect."

The largely New York-bred cast had similar feelings about New England’s quarterback. Then he showed up to work. Filming took place at Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. It was a frigid 40-degree morning, and Brady arrived on time at 6 o’clock. He came accompanied by neither fancy car nor (a real) entourage.

“We weren’t playing golf, but there were some clubs there,” Ellin says. “He picks one up, doesn’t warm up and hit it 220 feet straight down the middle. The guy is a freak.”

The episode's storyline features Turtle—a Giants loyalist—stubbornly refusing to acknowledge Brady throughout a day on the links. By the end, however, he’s charmed and makes dinner plans with Tom and Gisele.

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Tom Brady prior to a game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on August 26, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Getty Images)

Life imitated art.

“Tom could not have been a nicer guy,” Ellin says. “It’s hard for me because I love the Giants and hate the Patriots, but now I root for Brady over Eli. And that sucks. It really sucks.”

In an ideal universe, Brady would be a jerk. That way, the widespread football-fan contempt would be reinforced with his scowls and dismissive glares, a la Barry Bonds (who, in a wacky twist of cosmic fate, graduated 13 years before Brady from Junipero Serra High School). Yet for all the hostilities he inspires, Brady is genuinely liked within the game.

Na’il Diggs, the former Packers linebacker, recalls his college days at Ohio State when he dated a woman who attended Michigan. “I would drive up to see her and hang out with Tom and some other guys,” Diggs says. “I couldn’t tell my friends this because we hated Michigan. But he was always really friendly and cool.”

Thomas Jones, the onetime New York Jets halfback, was supposed to detest Brady on rivalry circumstance alone. “Nah, he was very nice,” Jones says. “Win or lose, after the game, he was always a good sport. You remember those things.”

Chris Baker was a Jets tight end for seven seasons who, in 2009, signed with the Patriots. “Tom was welcoming, gracious,” Baker says. “We had a lot of different conversations, and he was just one of the guys. I can’t say a bad word.” That year, Baker caught Brady’s 200th touchdown pass. He approached the quarterback with the football and offered it as a gift. “No,” he said. “You keep that one.”

During a recent speaking event in Los Angeles, Willie McGinest, the former New England linebacker, was asked by a fan to provide a reason he should no longer dislike Brady. McGinest offered a hearty chuckle then turned serious.

“Tom Brady is a better person than he is a football player,” McGinest said. “He cares about football, and that’s important. But he cares about his teammates even more than the game. And once you know somebody like that, you can only love them.

“There’s nothing to hate.”

Jeff Pearlman is a contributor to B/R Mag, a former Sports Illustrated senior writer and the New York Times best-selling author of seven books. His latest, Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre, will be released on October 25.

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