Here’s a true sentence packed with enough ridiculousness to blast a person across the room like a cannon: a U.S. District Court ruling is anticipated today or tomorrow on whether one of the NFL’s all-time greatest players can be penalized for having general knowledge that some footballs were at some point fractionally less inflated than they may have been at some other point prior to the start of a playoff game, for unknown reasons, and to unknown, dubious effect. This ruling will notably not be made by Gonzo, adorably dressed in robes and a powdered parliament wig, but by an actual, you know, judge. A real human judge.
Here’s a thing that will not be influenced today, via this ruling, nor via anything that happens after today, nor by anything that happened before today, because it is completely imaginary and we all need to lean into a handful of smelling salts and stop talking about it already: Tom Brady’s “legacy.”
Ah, but see, a great many lowing morons are at pains to safeguard the false idea that it means something when they angrily call men who play sports for a living “cheaters” with all the volatile intensity of a capital-murder sentencing hearing. Here’s USA Today’s FTW wondering whether Brady potentially shaving two games off his suspension would “be worth the hit his legacy took” in this whole appeals process. And here’s ESPN’s Jeffri Chadiha asserting that no appeals process can possibly “keep the taint off his legacy,” which evokes images of Chadiha smirkingly teabagging a printout of Brady’s career accomplishments. Where will the taint go, Tom? Will it go… on the legacy???? The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore today took a more somber tone than his earlier, searingly hot condemnation in doubting whether Brady can ever “clear his name,” no matter the ruling. The poor name “Tom Brady” will be cruelly cast to the wilderness when he is forced to change his name to “Benedicto Cumberbetch,” probably.
Let’s think about this legacy business [cracks open giant, dusty dictionary, flips disgustedly past hangry, makes a furious u-turn at manic pixie dream girl]: generally, legacy refers to something that is handed down by a predecessor, although in the context of sports and pop-culture it seems to have become shorthand for how such and such will be remembered. I mean, it has to be that, right? It can’t be what he hands down to the next generation, because that’s, like, not how the NFL works. It’s not like Tom Brady pulls Jimmy Garoppolo into a room and hands him his prestige, playbook mastery, and superhuman ability to not be high-fived following a Patriots touchdown. I now bequeath to you the great bounty of my career achievements, so that you may safeguard them for future generations. Nah.
So, then, how will Tom Brady be remembered? Well, for starters, by whom? There is a roughly zero percent chance that he will be remembered by Patriots fans as anything other than a superhero. After all, he is very definitively the best player in the history of the franchise, and the face of their long-enduring football dynasty. How will his fellow players remember him, though? There is ample evidence that his peers see him both as just the latest victim of Roger Goodell’s absurd quest to delegitimize his own league, and as, well, a kick-ass professional football player.
From any distance, these legacy-obsessed columns boil down to an effort to assess the fallout of Ballghazi in the hazy, pliable language of catchwords. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say they are asserting rather than assessing, as the condemning, declarative tones these writers whip out give the impression that these men shorted thousands of shares of Tom Brady’s Legacy, and are now suddenly tugging their collars and worrying the strategy might backfire. Here is why this invisible, imaginary thing is losing value and you should sell sell SELL!
But this is a fool’s errand. When all this Ballghazi shit is over—just a few hours from now, thank God—the people who will care the most, aside from those actively employed by either the Patriots or the NFL, will be Patriots fans who are glad to have Brady back for the start of the season and fantasy football owners. Sure, opposing fans will boo and taunt and yell increasingly unfunny lines about Brady’s little balls, but what visiting player doesn’t already deal with this shit? It’s not like restaurants will take a principled stand and refuse to seat Tom Brady for having general knowledge of some footballs being a little under-inflated. Pinpointing some real-world penalty for Brady’s tarnished legacy, or even the existence of such a phenomenon, is impossible, because the whole thing exists entirely in the sad, confused minds of people who wear their favorite players’ jerseys to the bar on Sundays, and those who make their living by riling the people in those jerseys.
And, down the line, secure with the respect of his peers and however many Super Bowl rings and a bust in Canton and millions of dollars to his name and the permanent adoration of millions and millions of fans, cruising the Mediterranean in a hundred-foot yacht with his beautiful family, the least likely thing in the whole world is that Tom Brady will give the remotest shit about what an unknowable number of sad-ass football fans and hot-take writers think of his “legacy.” I was the greatest player of my generation and I have an idyllic existence, but Rocco in Utica says my Super Bowls are invalidated [kills self].
Tom Brady’s “legacy” is meaningless in the physical universe and no one who matters cares about it, so what the hell are we all talking about?