There was a recent Boston Globe article noting that Patriot's quarterback Tom Brady was paid $170,000 to speak in early May at Salem State University, a public educational institution outside Boston. The event was a profit maker; it is reported that the university garnered a neat $40,000 profit. According to some sources, Brady donated the fee; when, exactly, was that contribution made?
The Globe article, and others that followed, have focused on Salem State's educational foundation that paid the speaker fee. It brings to the fore how this and other similar foundations linked to public educational institutions determine how to spend their largess, particularly in a time of fiscal constraint. Good questions.
Context matters here: The Brady speech was hardly the conventional academic presentation. No Kierkegaard. No public policy discussion. No artistic inspiration. Brady was not the type of speaker nor was the sum paid in line with other speakers the foundation had retained previously.
Brady's appearance had already been scheduled for May; he was to be interviewed by his television partner, Jim Gray. But then, in one of life's quirks, the Wells Report was released just prior to the engagement. For Salem State, the timing could not have been better. These were going to be Brady's first public comments about the Report and his role in Deflategate. Quite the PR moment for Salem State. The first ten minutes of the questions and answers were going to be televised.
I watched the public portion of the event and saw the articles and tweets about the non-public portions. Brady was calm, articulate and non-revelatory. He danced well. It was clear he was advised by counsel. Gray's questions were soft balls with an occasional quip. The audience questions seemed equally soft (although submitted weeks before the Wells Report).
Two of Brady's comments stuck in my craw in addition to the abundant applause. When asked if he had read the Wells Report, Brady responded that he had not; basically, he said his athletic career was stronger than his academic career and he was only reading X's and O's these days. Then, he was asked whether he was learning his wife's native language (Portuguese) to which he responded: he already knew two languages: English and football.
I am an avid sports fan but please, Brady was speaking at a university!
Now, fast forward. A fan who was at the AFC championship Deflategate game was handed a football by Patriots running back Blount after a second-half touchdown. Apparently, this fan received one of the deflated game balls (re-inflated for the third quarter), and it is now up for public auction for a minimum price of $25,000. Picture that: the evidence of cheating is being auctioned and could fetch 6 figures. Apparently, these are not the only Deflategate balls to be sold; an employee of the NFL, since dismissed, sold some of the balls too, although the facts of that story are far from clear.
I get that Brady could not speak about Deflategate, but there were plenty of substantive topics that could have been raised post the Wells Report.
Brady could have spoken about cheating; that is certainly an issue in education. Plagiarism plagues many of us, and some of the wrongs are done by teachers doctoring test scores. Perhaps that topic was too close for comfort.
Brady could have addressed why he takes money for his speeches and what he does with the revenue. He could have discussed how he and his wife select the specific charities to which they donate. Who should be the recipient of largess is a hot issue.
Brady could have addressed the role of athletics on a college campus and his views on paying student athletes. He could have commented on the NCAA's handling of scandals like at Penn State and UNC.
Of course, none of that happened.
Fast forward again: the appeals hearing on Brady's four-game suspension for Deflategate was held. It lasted 10 plus hours. While no one is technically allowed to report on what was said, it is not surprising that Brady's team think he performed like a champ. Others were not so impressed, suggesting there was only denial and criticism of the Wells Report rather than new material.
It seems nothing will be resolved immediately. Briefs need to be filed post-hearing and reviewed. Then, a decision has to be issued. One assumes something will be decided before the start of the NFL season, right?
For me, the payment to Brady by an educational foundation and the auctioning off of a deflated football raise questions about how we want to spend our money. We live in a world of scarce resources, and we need to make wise choices as to how we spend limited dollars. I can think of a lot of good from a donation of $170,000 and the price of a deflated football. I get that we live in a free market. But, we have children living in poverty, right down the road from where Brady lives and where the Patriots play.
As to the appeal, surely Brady wants to vindicate himself and preserve his reputation (which he considers apparently to be beyond reproach). He has a right to appeal although his boss, Kraft, elected not to appeal. Seems there must have been a lot to present and discuss since the hearing last over 10 hours. And, because that hearing is sealed, we will never actually know what was said, what tone was set, what body language was exhibited. I wonder, to use a phrase now made famous by Justice Scalia, was it all jiggery-pokery? For the non-Supreme Court justices among us, that term refers to underhanded or dishonest behavior, hocus pocus.
Perhaps the teachable moment here is twofold: regrettably, we care more about football and football stars than we do about those in need; and we are willing to spend a lot of time and ink and money dealing with whether Tom Brady lied and cheated. Imagine if we put together all the money expended in one way or another for the appeal and spend it on education.
This whole situation - from start through appeal -- is a reality check. We may not like that reality but best to acknowledge where we stand - for better or worse. From a song from decades ago, when will we ever learn?
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