Published in RealClearMarkets, 5/18/22
So far this year, Tom Brady has retired, unretired and signed a history making contract with Fox Sports. Brady’s deal with Fox kicks in when he hangs his cleats for real. The size of the paycheck is making headlines. But it is the timing of it that should have all of us concerned.
By: Les Heintz - @LesHeintz57
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Good for Tom Brady. He signed a new deal with Fox Sports, and he’s set for life. Actually, he was already set for life but now he’s set for the Mac-Daddy of all lives!
The New York Post reported Brady's deal with Fox Sports is worth $375 million over 10 years. It’s believed to be the largest in sportscasting history and more than his combined earnings as an NFL player, not including endorsements.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback will join Fox Sports as the lead NFL analyst after he retires from football. That news came directly from Fox executive chair and CEO Lachlan Murdoch.
"We are delighted that Tom has committed to joining the Fox team and wish him all the best during this upcoming season," Murdoch said, adding that Brady will be part of the booth "immediately following his playing career."
Hmmm. Does this mean Fox Sports will be cheering for Brady and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers? You bet it does!
Fox will broadcast the majority of Brady’s games. The network will also host Super Bowl LVII. I’m sure that Lachlan Murdoch would love to see the Buccaneers play for the NFL title on Brady’s future network.
At the very best, this feels awkward. At the very worst, it’s so much more.
It’s easy to see why Fox wants Brady in the broadcast booth. He’s the most successful quarterback in NFL history. Brady has played in 10 Super Bowls. He’s won 7 of them… 6 with the Patriots and 1 with the Buccaneers.
That said, Tom Brady is no choir boy.
In 2015, Brady was suspended for 4 games in what famously came to be known as “Deflate-gate.” The controversy centered around allegations that Brady and the New England Patriots used overly deflated footballs during the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. This was against NFL standards and supposedly gave Brady an unfair advantage.
The saga blossomed into one of the biggest off-field battles in recent memory. It featured Brady losing a lengthy court battle with the NFL. The Patriots were fined $1 million and docked a first-round and fourth-round draft choice as punishment.
Don’t get me wrong. I think Brady will be great on TV. He’s smart, good looking, and certainly knows football. It’s not the decision that bothers me. It’s the timing of the deal that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
By signing Brady to such an historic contract while he is still an active player, Fox Sports has damaged the integrity of its own organization, the NFL and sports journalism in general.
How in the world can we as consumers expect Fox Sports to cover Tom Brady in an unbiased manner when they’ve just made him the richest sports broadcaster in history? Reporters, writers, and analysts who work for Fox Sports now have a cloud hanging over their heads. What questions can they ask Brady after a game? If he plays poorly, will Fox analysts say so?
NFL referees are in the same boat. They are charged with making sure Brady follows the rules on the playing field (see deflate-gate reference above). What happens when there is a controversial call involving the Buccaneer quarterback? It doesn’t matter whether the call goes for or against Brady. Either way the optics are terrible.
“It reeks of a lot of things and none of them are good,” says Joe Yasharoff, an Adjunct Professor of sports journalism at the University of Maryland. “I don’t see how there could be objectivity (on the part of Fox Sports). This is a blatant conflict of interest, but I’m not sure many people will care.”
This is the same type of messy scenario playing out in Washington where White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki is leaving her position with the Biden Administration. She reportedly will host a show on MSNBC and its streaming service called Peacock.
Psaki reportedly did not officially signed a contract with the cable network while still working for the White House, but the talks reportedly moved to the advanced stages even as Psaki continued briefing reporters on behalf of the administration.
“I’m glad that she’s found a soft landing,” former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer told the Daily Signal. “But you can’t then continue to serve. You can’t sit at that podium knowing that your future colleagues are sitting there. … I mean, this is so unethical and wrong.”
The Hill is also concerned about the timing of the MSNBC-Psaki deal.
“At a minimum,” writes The Hill, “it gives rise to the perception that Psaki has had an incentive to treat potential future employers favorably — and that CNN and MSNBC, both competing to land her, have had their own incentives to ingratiate themselves with her.”
If Jen Psaki’s “handshake deal” with MSNBC is worth scrutiny, shouldn’t Brady’s Fox Sports signed contract be as well?
The reaction to the Brady deal has focused mainly on the size of the contract. After all, it is an obscene $37 million a year over the course of a decade. The remaining details of the agreement are mostly unknown. I’d be curious to learn whether there was a signing bonus or a clause requiring appearances on the network while Brady is still playing.
For me it’s less about the money and more about what this story says about the state of journalism today. We’ve grown accustomed to expecting so little from those who keep us informed and entertained that we will put up with just about anything these days.
I spent a good part of my adult life working as a reporter in various parts of the country. I believe in journalism and hope that leaders in the media find their way to finally move the profession in the right direction.
That said, if I had to use just one word to sum up my reaction to this latest twist in the Tom Brady saga, I would choose one that will always be part of his legacy… deflated!
**Les Heintz is an independent producer and media consultant based in Washington, DC. He is Executive Producer of multiple television series including “The McLaughlin Group” which was relaunched on Public Broadcasting in 2019. His writings have appeared in InsideHook and Zone Coverage. Follow him on Twitter @LesHeintz57.