I have three kids and their understanding of politics basically reflects their age. The four-year-old twins know who is running for President this year, but they really don’t have a grasp on what the President does. Here’s a conversation I had with one of the twins the other day:
“Why are we walking to the mailbox, Daddy?”
“Because I have to register to vote for the President.” (I was mailing a change-of-address form).
“You mean, like Abraham Lincoln?”
“He’s dead, Daddy.”
“Yes, he is.”
“Who are you voting for?”
“So is she going to be dead, too?”
My other daughter will also ask me periodically, “Daddy, what’s our Governor’s name again?”
“Daddy, why is he always so bad? Is he always bad? Is he bad to Mrs. Governor? Does he sneak downstairs while everyone is sleeping and watch TV, because that’s really bad, Daddy.”
My daughter thinks that Paul LePage is a super-villain. I have not disabused her of this notion.
My son, however, is in the fourth grade, and he’s pretty wise to politics. We’ve tried not to persuade him too much one way or another and simply give him the facts and let him make up his mind and trust that his kindness will lead him in the right direction. When he asked me what the difference between a Democrat and a Republican is, for instance, I tried to reduce it to the essentials. Democrats think we should give more of our money to the government so that the government can help build roads and bridges, assist the less fortunate, and run the country, while Republicans prefer to keep more of their money, and maybe use some of it to directly assist the less fortunate. My son decided long ago that he’d be a Democrat based on this calculation.
The election, however, has filtered down and given him a taste of the specifics. In fact, he’s studying the election at school right now, and the other day they were watching election ads. I wouldn’t have blinked at that during any other election year, but this year my first thought was, “Is he old enough to watch those ads?” I mean, I’ll let him watch PG-13 Marvel movies, but I don’t really want him watching Hillary Clinton ads featuring the words of Donald Trump. Trump ads are worse than PG-13 DC movies, which he’s not allowed to watch until he’s in college.
It was fine, as it turned out. His overall assessment was that he liked Hillary more, because her ads were more positive. He didn’t like all the name-calling in Trump’s ads.
Kids are pretty awesome.
Anyway, he’s been aboard the Democratic Party for a while, so when he gets visits from his grandparents — who live in Sarah Palin country in central Florida and vote accordingly — we remind him that it’s not a good idea to talk about politics around them. A few months ago, however, he inadvertently had this conversation:
Pops: “Who is your favorite football player?”
D: “Tom Brady.”
Pops: “He’s a great player.”
D: “Yeah, but it’s too bad he’s a Republican.”
Pops: *awkward silence*
Nana: *awkward silence*
Me, in the other room: *quickly slinks away thinking, ‘You’re on your own, son.’*
The poor kid. I could feel his heart fall into his stomach when he realized he’d stepped in it.
That association, however, has been a huge ding against Brady up here in New England with kids. Best I can tell, most of the grade schoolers fall into one of two camps: Either their favorite player is Tom Brady or it is Cam Newton. While Patriots fans can boast that their team has more Super Bowl rings, the Cam Newton fans can — and often do — respond by reminding the Pats’ fans that Tom Brady is friends with Donald Trump. It’s a stinging rebuke. It ends the conversation. Kids will defend Tom Brady when it comes to Deflategate (“He only cheated like once or twice, Dad”), but there’s no pithy comeback to, “Your favorite player supports Donald Trump.”
So, I don’t blame Tom Brady for not wanting to talk about politics. In fact, when asked about his friend Donald Trump’s “locker room talk” during a presser today, Tom Brady smiled and immediately walked off stage.
Smart move. A smarter move, however, would’ve been never to have gotten involved with Donald Trump in the first place. You may believe who a football player is voting for doesn’t mean anything — and maybe it shouldn’t — but in this election year, it does.
Why? Because his association with Trump sticks to him, and it’s not going to stop sticking to him until he denounces the man. However, if he denounces Trump, he alienates the children of Trump fans, and when you’re the most popular player in the NFL, that represents a lot of potential jersey sales.
All of which is to say: Kids take this stuff seriously. And when kids are literally using Donald Trump’s name as a schoolyard insult — at least in my corner of the country — the worst thing Tom Brady can do is to allow children to continue believing that he’s friends with a man who many kids believe does not like black people, gay people, or women.
Brady has a Paul Ryan problem. He can walk away all he likes during press conferences, but until he denounces Trump, most kids are going to go on believing that he’s pals with a bad man, even if he no longer shows outward support. On the other hand, if he rejects Trump, there are probably kids in states that don’t have their own football teams — Alabama, Arkansas, West Virginia, etc. — who are going to reject Brady.
He’s damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t, so he should probably go with his conscience. Right now, his silence does not speak well of his conscience.