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The social evolution of Tom Brady: From Foxborough to TikTok

Tom Brady's offseason has been very un-Patriots like in many ways, including his charity golf match with (from left) Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, and Phil Mickelson.
Tom Brady's offseason has been very un-Patriots like in many ways, including his charity golf match with (from left) Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, and Phil Mickelson.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images for The Match

It is difficult to prove any negative, but there’s a compelling case to be made that Tom Brady would not have split his pants on live television were he still a Patriot.

It’s not that the fibers would have held tighter together as Brady reached for his ball after making birdie on the seventh hole during The Match, the charity golf exhibition that had Phil Mickelson and Brady go against Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning last Sunday. It’s just that maybe Brady wouldn’t have been on the course at all. The event was delightful and raised $20 million for COVID-19 relief, which he’d certainly have been interested in doing regardless. It had him mic’d up and out there, though, hacking away in plain sight, bantering with Charles Barkley et al, committing to a level of exposure he’s avoided the last few years.

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And has seemed to embrace the last few months.

“A great event and a great cause ... winners all around! It was so fun having millions watch me shank shots, ask for lost ball rulings, and rip my pants wide open!” Brady said online.

Brady has been in the public eye for a long time and does just fine as the center of attention on football Sundays. He’s often, though, seemed uncomfortable in that same glare off the field. He has cited a desire for privacy often and avoided politics. Some of his most telling interviews were those he walked out of as means of declining to engage in their subject matter.

That has changed. Whether Brady wanted to keep his life to himself or didn’t feel he was allowed to be as open as he’d have liked to be before this offseason, the quarterback is suddenly willing to put himself out there in ways he hasn’t been in a long time.

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For example: He’s starting a production company. He’s doing a nine-part documentary with ESPN about himself. He was mostly mic’d up for an entire Sunday of golf that was seen by a record-setting average 5.8 million homes — reaching even more viewers once the pants incident went viral.

“The only thing I saw from TB12 and them was he split his pants at one point and he sunk a hole-in-one,” said Jason McCourty, errantly referring to the birdie Brady made from the fairway. “So, I was happy to see he split his pants. The next time I see him, I’ve got to give him a hard time.”

Brady has also recently shared that his wife, Gisele Bundchen, at times, was unhappy with their marriage as a result of his time commitment to football. He has also told us (on TikTok) that he exercises more than she does but also spends more money, has more clothes, and is more of a whiner when sick. He’s posted selfies with goofy filters and photoshopped a “Caddyshack” reference. He is, as the kids say, very online.

More significantly, Brady has delved into the political. He has requested, via an Instagram post, justice for George Floyd, the Minnesota man who died last Monday after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck while arresting him. Earlier in May, Brady signed a letter from the Players Coalition to the Justice Department demanding a federal investigation into the February killing of another Black man, Ahmaud Arbery.

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He has screenshot a TMZ post about his accidental barging-in on a Tampa man whose home he mistook for that of Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. He addressed a mini-controversy on social media, screenshooting a report claiming tension between he and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and captioning it “please stop this nonsense! Please be more responsible with reporting.”

Beyond the confines of the Internet, he’s also selling his custom Escalade, with its blacked-out windows and privacy curtains. He’s currently living in a home (Derek Jeter’s, if you haven’t heard) in Tampa that he told Howard Stern is far less private than the Brookline manse his family inhabited for the last few years.

“Where I lived in Chestnut Hill, I was pretty private for a long time,” Brady said. “So I forgot, in a way, like people could drive up to your house. You couldn’t drive up to my house where I lived in Chestnut Hill. Here, they could pull right up to the back of the house.

“This is a little different because when you go out to the backyard, there’s a lot of boats that have pulled up and people out the front.”

Oh, also, he did multiple hours with Stern.

Maybe this was part of the plan. It’s smart business — Brady’s Twitter-follower count has grown from 977,730 on March 11 to more than 1.2 million now, the new followers roped in by the 37 tweets (out of a lifetime total of 206) he’s sent since then.

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Maybe it just makes him happy.

“He wanted to go somewhere and enjoy himself, have more fun than he was having,” Brady’s friend Jay Feely said during an guest spot on NFL Network’s ”Good Morning Football,” speaking of Brady’s change of scenery. “He earned that right. He was a free agent and we’ll see how that ends up.”

The degree to which Patriots players are discouraged from having active presences online, and otherwise with the public, is usually overstated but still a factor.

Maybe it took the confluence of a global pandemic that requires the public to stay inside and become round-the-clock content consumers and the biggest change of his professional life to get Brady on TikTok, but there he is.

This has not all gone over well in New England. While Brady stories continue to generate tons of interest, plenty of Patriots fans — including those still rooting for the quarterback, as long as he’s not playing New England — have voiced the opinion that it’s getting tiring hearing about his every move. (Anyone who has ever social media-stalked an ex knows that these things can both be true.)

Beyond the specific dynamics of this offseason, though, it’s fascinating to watch one of the NFL’s defining players change this way. Brady’s always done most of his talking on the field, but he’s starting to get chatty in other arenas, as well.


Nora Princiotti can be reached at nora.princiotti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @NoraPrinciotti.