The week leading up to Super Bowl 55 revived the discussion of one of the most controversial friendships in sports: Tom Brady and Donald Trump.
The Buccaneers quarterback sidestepped the topic on Monday when a reporter asked if Brady had gotten a pass for his support of Trump because he is a white athlete.
“I’m not sure how to respond to [a] hypothetical like that,” answered Brady, who kept a MAGA hat in his locker and supported Trump during his initial presidential campaign in 2016. “I hope everyone can — we’re in this position like I am to, again, try to be the best I can be every day as an athlete, as a player, as a person in my community, for my team and so forth, so yeah, I’m not sure what else.”
The friendship predates the latter’s 2016 presidential campaign and ensuing term as president; the two first became friends in 2002, a year after Brady took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe and led the Patriots to the first of their six Super Bowl titles. Trump also claims friendships with Patriots owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick.
While Brady has never renounced his friendship with Trump, he has admitted it became “uncomfortable” during the 2016 campaign; it reached a nadir in 2017 following the Patriots’ win in Super Bowl 51.
Brady is back in the big game in 2021, this time with his new team, the Buccaneers, who will host the Chiefs in Tampa, Fla., on Feb. 7. With that, here’s a timeline of their friendship:
Tom Brady’s friendship with Donald Trump begins
In 2002, Trump invited the recent Super Bowl MVP to judge his Miss America pageant. Brady, in a 2017 interview with Boston radio station WEEI, called it “one of the very first things that I did that I thought was really cool that came along with winning the Super Bowl.”
Trump weighs in on Deflategate
Their friendship — which included calls and golf excursions — remained largely out of the news until Sept. 3, 2015, when Trump congratulated Brady after Judge Richard Berman lifted his four-game suspension following Deflategate. Trump tweeted from his since-deleted account: “Congratulations to Tom Brady on yet another great victory- Tom is my friend and a total winner!”
That wasn’t the first time Trump publicly backed Brady on Twitter following Brady’s suspension:
May 11: “They had no definitive proof against Tom Brady or #patriots. If Hillary doesn’t have to produce Emails, why should Tom? Very unfair!”
May 11: “People are so jealous of Tom Brady and the Patriots. No court could convict based on the evidence.They can’t beat him on the field, so this!”
May 13: “I hope Tom Brady sues the hell out of the @nfl for incompetence & defamation. They will drop the case against him–and he will win.”
That, unfortunately, wasn’t the end of the Deflategate scandal. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ultimately won the legal battle, and Brady mercifully accepted his suspension in July 2016. In November of that year, video surfaced of Trump coming one last time to the defense of his friend.
“He’s a friend of mine, he’s a great guy, and he’s a great athlete obviously, but he’s a winner,” Trump said in the interview (conducted in October by TMZ). “I think Tom is totally innocent. I think Tom is — first of all, I know him, he’s such an honorable guy, and I’m with him all the way.”
Lead-up to the 2016 presidential election
Brady also appeared to support Trump ahead of the 2016 election. Thirteen months prior to the election — Sept. 5, 2015 — a red “Make America Great Again” hat was seen in Brady’s locker. A few days later, the Patriots quarterback explained he had received the hat from Trump — who had announced his candidacy that June — through Kraft.
“He sent it to me via R.K.K.,” Brady said, using Kraft’s initials. “He always gives me a call and different types of motivational speeches at different times. So now that he’s running for president, he sent me a hat, and he gave it to R.K.K. a couple weeks ago. So it found its way to my locker.”
The next week, Brady was asked ahead of a Republican presidential debate whether he thought Trump had what it takes to win the presidency.
“I hope so,” Brady said (via ESPN). “It would be great. There would be a putting green on the White House lawn, I’m sure of that.”
On Sept. 28, 2015, Brady — who has never revealed who he voted for in the 2016 or 2020 presidential elections — said his comments weren’t an endorsement of Trump and that they were taken out of context.
“It’s just a different world than when I started in professional football,” Brady told WEEI on Sept. 29 (via ABC News). “Even an off-handed comment like that, like you said, that people may run with. And I understand why people do run with it because you get the clicks and that type of stuff. It’s just people doing their job. A comment like that, I try to have fun with certain things.”
“One way or another, it’s so far away from when the election will be. Whatever I vote is going to be my own personal choice based on how I feel,” he said. “I don’t even know what the issues are. I haven’t paid attention to politics in a long time. It’s actually not something that I really even enjoy. It’s way off my radar.”
The line of questioning surrounding Brady’s friendship with Trump apparently became a big enough distraction that Brady — again faced with whether he endorsed the candidate — asked to be left out of it.
“Can I just stay out of this debate? Donald is a good friend of mine,” Brady said on Dec. 15, 2015 (via Boston.com). “I have known him for a long time. I support all my friends. That is what I have to say.
“I support all my friends in everything they do. I think it’s pretty remarkable what he’s achieved in his life. You’re going from business, kind of an incredible businessman and then a TV star, and then getting into politics. It’s three different career paths. I think that is pretty remarkable.”
Brady tires of political questions
Their friendship apparently became troublesome enough for Brady’s family that his wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, told him not to speak about politics anymore. Brady said as much on Nov. 9, 2016, the day after Trump won the election:
Two days prior, Trump said at a New Hampshire rally that Brady had privately endorsed and voted for him — something Bundchen quickly denied. Whether Trump’s claim is true is up for debate, but Trump told WEEI in February that he advised Brady not to endorse him.
“I told him not to,” Trump said of Brady. “He’s got sponsors, he’s got all of his different things that he has to do. And I told him not to.”
Brady’s friendship with Trump is publicly shaken
Though questions surrounding Brady’s friendship with Trump didn’t end after the election, things did calm down considerably for the Patriots quarterback.
On Jan. 24, 2017, Brady confirmed he had called to congratulate Trump following his successful campaign. He declined another question asking him to discuss their friendship in light of Trump’s divisive policies.
“I don’t want to get into it, but if you know someone it doesn’t mean you agree with everything they say or they do,” Brady said (via Boston.com). “You have a lot of friends in your life. I think there are things that are based in your own dealings with someone that is a personal dealing, not a public dealing. Because you have personal experiences.”
After Brady led the Patriots to an immaculate comeback against the Falcons in Super Bowl 51, he announced he wouldn’t visit the White House. While several of his teammates refused to visit as a form of protest, Brady reportedly used that time to visit his ailing mother. But when Trump heard of Brady’s plans that April, he reportedly grew angry and concerned that the quarterback’s absence would reflect poorly on him.
According to a June 2018 report by The Washington Post:
“Trump grew angry in April 2017 when Tom Brady said he planned to skip the White House visit with the Patriots, huddling angrily with aides and even calling Patriots owner Robert Kraft. One former senior administration official described a chaotic scene unfolding over the heartlands of America, as Trump flew back from an event in Wisconsin. Trump made a number of calls and asked aides to help fix the situation, worried that Brady’s absence would reflect poorly on him.
Eventually, Trump was calmed down, and the Patriots came to the White House.”
Their relationship took another public hit in September 2017, when Brady said he disagreed with Trump’s suggestion that NFL players who knelt during the playing of the national anthem should be suspended or fired.
“I certainly disagree with what he said,” Brady told WEEI (via Jacksonville.com). “I thought it was just divisive. I just want to support my teammates. I am never one to say, ‘Oh, that is wrong. That is right.’ I do believe in what I believe in. I believe in bringing people together and respect and love and trust. Those are the values that my parents instilled in me.”
Brady reflects on friendship with Trump
Whether Trump and Brady had a personal falling-out is unknown, but the president — at least publicly — offered his support for Brady in January 2019. Following the Patriots’ overtime win against the Chiefs in the AFC championship game, Trump offered his congratulations on Twitter:
“Congratulations to Bob Kraft, Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the entire New England Patriots team on a great game and season,” he said. “Will be a fantastic Super Bowl!”
Trump didn’t offer the same to the Patriots’ Super Bowl opponent, the Rams.
Their relationship wasn’t major news again until April 2020 when Brady — in an interview with Howard Stern — said their relationship grew “uncomfortable” during Trump’s campaign.
“He would call me after games, ‘I watched your game Tom, let’s play golf together.’ So, 2003, 2004, that’s kind of the way it was,” Brady said. “He would golf, and then he became someone that — he would come up to our games and stand on the sideline. He would cheer for the Patriots. He always had a way of connecting with people, and still does.
“But the whole political aspect came, and I think I got brought into a lot of those things because it was so polarizing around the election time. It was uncomfortable for me. You can’t undo things — not that I would undo a friendship — but the political support is totally different than the support of a friend.”
Stern then stunned Brady when he asked whether he had heard Trump wanted him to get with his daughter, Ivanka. Brady, married to Bunchen since 2009, expertly sidestepped the question but was clearly uncomfortable with the notion.
Their relationship was brought up one last time in the week leading up to Super Bowl 55. “SNL” on Jan. 30 had a cold-open skit in which Kate McKinnon invited Brady — played by John Krasinski — onto a segment called “What Still Works.”
Prior to Krasinski’s appearance, McKinnon determines that none of the government, stock market, social media or coronavirus vaccine rollout are currently working in 2021. That leads her to laud “Brady,” who at 43 is playing in his 10th Super Bowl.
“And it’s not like you’re a weird Trump guy or anything, right?” McKinnon asks.
Responds Krasinski: “Thanks for having me.”