Green: Athletes prove unworthy of 'hero' label

Jerry Green
The Detroit News

Why do we call them heroes? Why do we fawn over them? Why do we celebrate their victories and magnify their accomplishments? Why do we venerate them and glorify them and vent about their legacies?

They are athletes, and the rest of us are mere mortals. Nobody rants about our legacies.

Say it ain't so, Joe! Tom! Mark! Lance! Barry! Pete! Roger! Alex!

We exist in a culture of celebrity and awe. We use the word hero to immortalize.

We build them up — and what we build up, we tear down.

The current villain is Tom Brady.

A composite media picture of the past three months spans Brady's anointment as the greatest pro quarterback who ever held a football to a dastardly liar and a dastardly cheat.

Prince Charming has morphed into the Frankenstein monster.

So he joins the list: Mark McGwire, Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, Pete Rose, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez. And now Tom Brady.

All a Hell's Angels gang of talented — the word great applies — athletes gone wrong.

They fooled us.

And we are the fools.

Keep on smiling, Tom

The other night after he was outed by the now-heavily analyzed report from NFL investigator Ted Wells, Tom Brady appeared at Salem State University near Boston. He was interviewed by Jim Gray, the toughest and best interlocutor in any media.

It turned into nothing more revealing than a sports-bar bull session.

Brady smiled, as was displayed in a videotape on the Boston Globe's website and elsewhere. And he parried. And he fenced. And he declined to admit any guilt regarding passing deflated footballs in what the media army keeps referring to — I cannot say it. Every scandal since Richard Nixon's Watergate episode is smeared with a similar cliché.

Tom declined to involve himself into the controversy.

"There's still a process going forth right now, and I'm involved in that process," he told Gray, according to the video, "so whenever it happens, it happens, and I'll certainly want to be very comfortable about the statements I make."

You know what?

The packed audience cheered and cheered — and cheered some more.

This is Tom Brady, still Prince Charming.

Still, well, to fans in New England is a he… Never. The word hero can never apply to an athlete, regardless if he has won four Super Bowls and has been revered across America.


A real hero

Pat Tillman was a rarity as a hero out of sports. Tillman was heroic because he gave up an NFL career with the Cardinals to join the Army. He was heroic not because he was excellent at defending passes and making tackles. He was a hero because he gave up his lucrative career to volunteer to fight for our country. And because he was killed in Afghanistan.

Sorry — again!

All this has been said by a guy, me, who has admired Tom Brady as an athlete since he played football at Michigan. Brady, who kept coming in as a backup quarterback to rescue his team.

Brady, a guy who then was spurned by the wizards who do the scouting and drafting in the NFL until the Patriots and Bill Belichick took a chance on him. In Round 6 of the draft.

Brady, a guy who got a shot when the starting quarterback — Drew Bledsoe — was injured. And Brady, a guy who kept the job and went on to win four Super Bowls with the Patriots and play in six of them.

And Brady, a guy with the old-fashioned talent of a Bobby Layne or Otto Graham or John Elway to win Super Bowls with drives against the clock.

No doubts about the ability of Tom Brady. No doubts about his charisma and no doubts about his popularity.

So why, if true as accused, did he have to ruin his image? With such a paltry sin? Why, if true as accused, did he mastermind the depressurizing of footballs so they might fit into his hand a bit better?

He had his shot the other night when Jim Gray tried to get him to say something with guts to it — and he demurred.

More probably than not — to plagiarize the NFL's newest jazzy phrase — Tom Brady was too good to be true. Just like Lance and Roger — and Shoeless Joe nearly a century ago.

Say it ain't so, Tom!

Jerry Green is retired Detroit News sportswriter.