Someday, your grandchildren, if you have them, will ask you what it was like to watch Tom Brady—the greatest quarterback ever, by a rather wide margin—play. That you lived in the time of Brady, who is reportedly retiring, will seem remarkable to them, in the same way it seemed remarkable to me that my grandfather was old enough to grow up watching Babe Ruth. (Brady has yet to confirm the report, although that may have more to do with a desire to break the news himself.) Brady did things in the NFL, like Ruth, that will not seem possible to future generations. The kids will want to know.
If you are being honest, you will tell them the truth, which will be, “well, grandchild, we drew penises on photos of him and posted them to the Internet, flipped him off every time he showed up on our screens and never missed an opportunity to call him a cheating asshole and a fascist.” But you won’t be honest. You will tell them he was the best quarterback you ever saw and everybody loved him. You have, whether you realize it or not, already started doing it.
In many ways, athlete retirements are like celebrity deaths: most of the hard edges are sanded off until only the parts we liked remain. We want to think about the good stuff. And it generally stays that way. After all: We’ve already buried the dead. Alex Rodriguez was the most despised player in baseball for essentially the last 15 years of his career; within three years of retiring, he was the lead broadcaster on ESPN’s signature “Sunday Night Baseball” broadcast and going to the Oscars with J-Lo. Charles Barkley was one of the NBA’s great villains—a charismatic, electric one, but a villain nevertheless—before becoming one of the league’s signature personalities in retirement. (Allen Iverson is revered now, justifiably, but forever under attack when he was active.) Kobe Bryant, Dan Marino, John McEnroe, Randy Moss … they were all often considered Public Enemy No. 1 when they were still playing, but once they hung ‘em up, we remembered the joy they gave us, not the rage.
Brady might have taken more shit than any of them. Though the MAGA hat…