It’s not what he said. It’s where he said it.
NFL.com’s headline claims, “Brady avoids questions about Wells Report.” CBSSports.com’s announces: “Tom Brady dodges Deflategate questions.”
They got the story, like so many on this story, dead wrong.
Tom Brady, true to his pocket-passing penchant, neither “dodged” nor “avoided.” Instead, he stood arrow straight and called a trick play on his adversaries that ultimately resulted in a bullet pass whizzing past their heads without them the wiser. Tom Brady quietly, but clearly, called the four-month pursuit of him a witch hunt.
Brady didn’t use the phrase. He didn’t need to. The setting said it for him.
The Super Bowl MVP could have appeared at any of more than a hundred other campuses in Massachusetts, where higher education remains a leading industry. He didn’t deliver his first post-Wells Report remarks at Harvard, or Williams, or Wellesley, or BC, or MIT, or Amherst. Several weeks back he chose to speak at the only university, and a rather unheralded one at that, in Salem, Massachusetts.
Salem endured mass hysteria 323 years ago. The authorities rounded up 125 accused witches, executing 13 women and seven men by hanging and, in one instance, pressing with rocks. To come to its verdicts, the colonial court relied upon “spectral evidence,” proof found in dreams and visions, sort of like imagining the pigskin sorcery that surely occurred behind a bathroom door with a dozen footballs in 100 seconds, and the “doctrine of effluvia,” a 17th-century version of “more probable than not” that decides that something, je ne sais quoi, just stinks here.
Lest we judge history too harshly, we must admit that in addition to crackpot proof of the dark arts, such as the ownership of puppets, Salem Judge William Stoughton possessed direct evidence—confessions and eyewitnesses—misleading him to believe the guilt of the accused. Ted Wells lacks even that. But he does hold up the text messages of a Patriots employee boasting that he absconded with the game ball used by Tom Brady to eclipse 50,000 yards passing in October. Does not that make for an airtight case that the two conspired to let the air out of game balls in January?
In case any of the scribes missed the symbolism of the speech’s setting, passing by the local Witch Museum, spotting the silhouette of a pointy-hatted woman riding a broom on the city’s official insignia, glimpsing women dressed six months early for Halloween or three decades late as Stevie Nicks at the Salem Willows, or noting the “Witches” nickname on the public high school’s sports teams might have clued in the assembled attendees that Tom Brady said something loud and clear without actually saying it on Thursday night.
When asked by Jim Gray to address the Wells Report directly, Brady displayed an aw-shucks look—half Eddie Haskell, half Beaver Cleaver—and said he needs more time to digest it. “Well, my athletic career has been better than my academic career,” the University of Michigan graduate claimed. “I’m used to reading Xs and Os. This was a little bit longer.”
The quarterback’s response to his accuser was a little bit deeper. It came from the setting and not the script. In the words of Tom Brady’s hooded mentor, “It is what it is.”