When it's over 65 degrees, I take off my shirt to run, and I tell you this because my Facebook and Instagram are full of me without my shirt and all the celebrities I've encountered on my runs. Liam Neeson was the kindest celebrity and I the one would see most frequently. I've met Ryan Seacrest, Mike Myers, Matt Bomer, Zach Braff, and many others. My friends refer to these as my "shirtless celebrity photos."
It was a mildly warm day in early May of 2019, exactly 65 degrees, and I was running along the Hudson River in New York City. I was approaching the 30th Street heliport when I saw three kids getting off a helicopter, all in winter apparel (I guess 65 degrees was cold for them), with a beautiful woman and an incredibly good-looking guy following them.
Then, like a giddy teenager, I recognized those adults to be Tom Brady and his wife, Gisele Bundchen. They had a security person with them, and as they approached their black SUV, I was waiting for them. After Brady loaded the car with luggage, he signaled to his security that I was OK to come over.
"Tom," I excitedly said, "would love to get one of my famous shirtless celebrity photos with you; however, I need to warn you that I'm an avid Steelers fan." Brady chuckled and said, "Well, I'll take a picture with you anyway."
I should have prefaced this by saying that I've spent most of the last 20 some years not liking Brady because he and the Patriots were a threat to the Steelers' record of six Super Bowl wins. By this point, the Patriots had tied the Steelers with six wins.
So, you may ask, then why did you take a picture with someone who you disliked? Simple. It was Tom Brady, unquestionably the greatest football player of all time, referred to as GOAT. And it's not every day that you get to encounter absolute greatness. Whether you're a 12-year-old boy or a 55-year-old man, you're still over-the-top excited standing next to an icon. A legend.
It also didn't hurt that Brady was drop-dead good-looking, and I'm sure many gay men who watched him over the years would lead with that fact when discussing Brady. But was he an LGBTQ+ ally?
Someone who would know a little about Brady is former New England Patriot Ryan O'Callaghan, who came out after playing in the NFL for five years. I reached out to O'Callaghan about his memories of playing with Brady.
"All my memories of Tom are very positive," O'Callaghan recalled. "He was an extreme competitor who also knew how to have a good time. As a rookie, he went out of his way to give me a ride to the facility when I needed one, and he got to know me better on the drive."
"When I came out, he did not reach out to me directly, and I did not expect him to. I have no reason to believe he isn't a supporter of the LGBTQ community. He's from the Bay Area, married to a supermodel, and always dresses fashionably. ... I'm sure he has been around and is friends with plenty of us!"
Indeed. Gisele Bundchen is one of the world's top models, coming from a world and a fashion industry that includes an overwhelming number of gay men, and Bundchen, as we all know by now, has a lot of sway over her husband. It's my guess that she's taken the time to educate her husband to be open-minded and accepting.
During an interview with Men's Health a few years ago, Brady opened up about his second son, Benjamin, who unlike his older son doesn't like sports. Brady tried to coax the boy into partaking in some games, but his wife wasn't having it.
According to Brady, his wife repeatedly told him, "Would you effing understand that your son is different?" Brady said that he eventually got it, but added, "It was hard for me. The reality is that Benny just likes different things. And it's great because now I just have to go do what he wants to do. When we do that, we have the best time. He's like, 'OMG, Dad, you're so funny.' He loves joking, and I joke back."
The article also points out that Brady is very cautious with his words, knowing the tremendous influence he has by making one simple statement or sharing a personal story about his family, so for Brady to talk about his son was a gigantic move.
However, Brady went wildly off-script on the Howard Stern show two years ago, when Stern asked him about the penis of his teammate and close friend Rob Gronkowski. "Yes, he does, it's amazing," Brady said. "It's exactly what you would expect it to be."
Many found Brady's comments offensive; however, there was something even more offensive that remains largely unclear. Was Brady a Trumper? In 2015, before Trump was president, cameras spotted a MAGA hat in Brady's locker that was put there by Patriots owner Robert Kraft. At the time, Brady said he was "friends" with Trump and that he was fun to play golf with.
However, according to a column on NBC News by author Will Leitch, the perception that Brady might have been a Trump supporter was a myth. Leitch writes, "The hat was never seen again, and Brady never said a word in support of Trump again afterward. Indeed, the only thing he ever said about Trump politically was that he "disagreed" with him when Trump said protesting athletes should be "dragged off the field."
And Leitch writes, "Brady has never explicitly said what he thought of Trump politically, but his wife, Gisele Bundchen, sure has. When, on the eve of the 2016 election, someone asked her on Instagram if she and Brady were voting for Trump, she gave an emphatic 'No!'"
Brady eventually left the New England Patriots and was a 40-something quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He left the Trump-loving Patriots owner Kraft and Coach Bill Belichick.
Since Brady was now an old quarterback, and out from under the thumb of Trump lovers, I lived vicariously through Brady. I was "old" like him, and he was an example of performing well as an older man. When you reach a certain age and realize you're not young anymore, watching Brady play almost makes you feel young or that you can do anything despite your age.
As football fans, we either loved him or hated him. Those who loved him most, until he left, were Patriots fans who were overwhelmed by all the winning the Patriots achieved under his tenure. And those who hated him were mainly just so tired of seeing him in AFC playoffs and Super Bowls. Enough already!
After he took a picture with me, and once he got to the Buccaneers, I started to appreciate Brady. And was still in awe of him right up to yesterday when he retired. At 44 years old, he led the league in completions and touchdowns. Remarkable.
When a legend who you admired and followed goes away and retires, for someone my age, it makes me feel old. Brady was the last of his generation. Last week saw one of my personal heroes, the Steelers longtime quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, retire. He returned the glory to the Steelers by winning two Super Bowls. Twenty years ago, when these guys started, I was still a young man. Their retirements represent the quick and unrelenting passage of time.
There's a bunch of younger quarterbacks now in the wings, taking over where Brady and Roethlisberger left off. And knowing that these guys are all in their early 20s really makes me feel like I have no connection to them; however, if I see the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes while I'm out for a run, he better be prepared to take a shirtless selfie with me, even though I'm old -- and a Steelers fan.
John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.