Sometimes people take sports way too seriously. It is a longstanding human failing. Some of the bloodiest riots of antiquity — the Nika riots — arose in part because of chariot team affiliations. Plenty of American cities have erupted following championships won by the hometown team, and soccer hooliganism causes violence at games throughout Europe.
However, while those are examples of physical foolishness, sports also present opportunities for intellectual nonsense. An associate professor at the University of Rhode Island recently earned headlines for some of his scholarship. The title of his work?
“Making American White Men Great Again: Tom Brady, Donald Trump, and the Allure of White Male Omnipotence in Post-Obama America.” It is a chapter in a yet-unreleased “Handbook of Masculinity and Sport.”
Professor Kyle Kusz was part of the kinesiology faculty at URI until this fall, when he transitioned into the English department with a joint appointment to the Gender and Women’s Studies program. Since the book hasn’t come out yet, it is hard to see whether Kusz has some nuanced perspective and sharp insight. But, given the coverage published thus far and his phone interviews, it doesn’t seem to be in the offing.
It promptly runs afoul of Godwin’s Law, drawing comparisons between Brady’s Under Armor commercials and Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda film “Triumph des Willens.” And why do (some) people like the Patriots quarterback? According to Kusz, “Tom Brady has gained popularity due to the ‘latest wave of white rage and white supremacy.’”
As I said, some people take sports way too seriously.
Kusz goes onto cite, among other things, personally witnessing a guy wearing a Brady jersey at a right-wing rally (in Boston) as evidence of his thesis. He describes Brady as “a wealthy, white man who unapologetically enjoys, and has even made a habit out of, spending time with other wealthy white men who treasure time ‘with the boys’ over all others,” and the quarterback has “an apparent preference for being in the company of elite white men.”
No two ways about it; Brady has an idyllic life. His wife Gisele Bundchen, by all accounts, is a savvy, intelligent business mind, not to mention one of the most beautiful women in the world and the primary earner in their household. They are millionaires hundreds of times over. He is recognized as one of, if not the, greatest players ever to play his chosen sport. Brady has some strange dietetic choices but, hey, it seems to be working.
But none of this has anything to do with the amount of melanin in his skin. Nor does Kusz’ statement that Brady has some “apparent preference” for white men seem to have any basis in reality. Just a few weeks ago, it was leaked that Brady offered troubled wide receiver Antonio Brown a place in his home as he adapted to his (ultimately brief) tenure in New England. Josh Gordon, a phenomenal talent who has struggled with substance abuse issues, lauded Brady for his help and mentorship.
Both Brown and Gordon are black. So, comparing this undisputed evidence to Kusz’s theories, there are two possible rationales. Either this is all part of Brady’s “White Male Omnipotence” — the modern Kipling-esque “white man’s burden” — or Mr. Gisele is simply a really good guy.
Rising racial tension in our country is something to take seriously. Its interaction with politics is serious. But some people take their sports way too seriously and mixing them all together is a pretty poor plan to address really serious business. Those challenges require clear heads and meticulous word choice to express exceedingly nuanced meaning.
But sports don’t. “Go Pats!” is the only thing that really needs to be said.