Earlier this month, Panthers tight end Greg Olsen explained the reluctance of NFL players to talk politics. Among other things, he expressed a concern that political comments would “be misinterpreted and then have your thoughts misconstrued for a catchy headline.”
And so, of course, comments from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on Tuesday’s PFT Live were misconstrued for a catchy headline at USA Today.
“Everybody has their own choice,” Brady said regarding whether players should go to the White House. “There’s certain years, like a couple years ago, I wanted to go and didn’t get the opportunity based on the schedule — we didn’t get told until I think like 10 days before we were going, and at that point I had something I’d been planning for months and couldn’t get there. . . . It really is a great experience. Putting politics aside, it never was a political thing. At least, it never was to me. It meant you won a championship and you got to experience something cool with your team, with your teammates. Everyone has their own choice. It’s an offseason. These days are valuable for everybody. You only get so much time with your family and friends, and if people don’t want to go they don’t want to go and that’s their choice.”
He used those three words, his message definitely wasn’t that his teammates should be “putting politics aside.” The end result is a classic case of misconstruing thoughts for a catchy headline, and it’s a prime example of why it’s so hard to persuade athletes to talk about politics. Or, in some cases, to talk at all, about anything.
Brady wasn’t even addressing politics. He said “putting politics aside” in order to explain why he has chosen in the past to go or not to go to the White House. He neither said nor implied that any of his teammates should “put politics aside” when deciding whether they should or shouldn’t go.
Of course, that won’t matter. The headline has been crafted and the tweet has flown. Many will believe that Brady has publicly urged his teammates who may decided not to participate in the White House visit for political reasons that they should be “putting politics aside,” even though he. Never. Said. That.
UPDATE 12:45 p.m. ET: USA Today has revised its story. Which is admirable. But not nearly as admirable as not misconstruing his words would have been.