FOXBOROUGH — Tom Brady was asked after Friday’s practice whether he suffered a concussion last year, as his wife claimed in May on national television.
The Patriots quarterback didn’t say yes, but he didn’t say no, either.
“You know I don’t want to get into things that happened in my past, certainly medical history and so forth,” Brady said. “I really don’t think that’s anybody’s business, you know, what happened last year. I’m focused on this year and improvement and working on things I need to get better at.”
Brady held a news conference Friday for the first time since the day after the Patriots’ win in Super Bowl LI nearly six months ago.
On “CBS This Morning” in May, his wife, Gisele Bundchen, said, “He had a concussion last year. He has concussions pretty much every — I mean, we don’t talk about it. He does have concussions.”
Brady was never listed on an injury report with a concussion last year, and the Patriots said they were unaware of Brady suffering any head injuries. Brady danced delicately around the subject on Friday.
“I’m not sitting here worried about last year or five years ago,” Brady said. “There are other people that do worry about that — my wife or my parents or my sisters or people that love me and care about me. But I do the best I can do to come out and be prepared to play, mentally and physically, and I give the game everything I can.”
So, the debate is over. Brady has had ample opportunity to deny that he had a concussion last year, and he won’t take it.
And that’s fine. Brady is hardly the first player to hide a concussion from his team. In today’s NFL, getting checked for a concussion means a player misses at least several minutes of game time, and at maximum sits out entire games, which we all know is Brady’s worst nightmare. If Julian Edelman had reported a concussion in Super Bowl XLIX two years ago, the Patriots may not have completed their comeback over the Seahawks.
“Guys get concussions, they don’t tell the coaches,” former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson said in May. “It happens. I don’t tell the coach sometimes ’cause I know I got a job to do. The team needs me out there on the field. And sometimes you allow that to jeopardize yourself, but that’s just the nature of the world.”
Brady’s wrong saying his concussion isn’t anyone’s business. In the NFL, injuries are everyone’s business, and the league requires teams to be truthful on injury reports for transparency sake.
On Friday, an NFL spokesman said “the matter remains under review.”
Following Gisele’s comments in May, the NFL released a statement:
“We have reviewed all reports relating to Tom Brady from the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultants and certified athletic trainer spotters who worked at Patriots’ home and away 2016 season games as well as club injury reports that were sent to the league office.
“There are no records that indicate that Mr. Brady suffered a head injury or concussion, or exhibited or complained of concussion symptoms. Today we have been in contact with the NFLPA and will work together to gather more information from the club’s medical staff and Mr. Brady. The health and safety of our players is our foremost priority and we want to ensure that all our players have and continue to receive the best care possible.”
The bigger story isn’t that Brady had a concussion, but that he had one without thousands of people noticing. TV cameras didn’t catch him looking woozy. The concussion spotter and two dozen medical personnel on hand at every game did not notice symptoms. Patriots beat reporters and team broadcasters don’t know when it happened.
It reinforces the point being driven home now by concussion research, that not all concussions result from massive collisions, and the symptoms aren’t the same. The accumulation of tiny blows to the head can add up and be more damaging than the big hits. And every person reacts differently to a concussion. Some people feel great the next day, some feel the effects for weeks.
Brady did admit that he pays some attention to the brain studies being released, such as the one last week revealing 110 of 111 deceased NFL players to have some form of chronic traumatic encephalopathy .
“You’re not blind to it as a player,” he said. “That’s why I believe in so much of being proactive with your health. I think when you’re a player and you see other players before you that did things a certain way and what’s transpired with their health or well-being and then you learn from it.”
Brady’s TB12 regimen reportedly includes “brain exercises,” though obviously they don’t prevent him from incurring concussions.
But even with CTE showing up in the brains of hundreds of former players, it won’t deter Brady and athletes similar to him. Although it’s well-established that repetitive hits to the head are bad for long-term and even short-term health, Brady is willing to take the trade-off.
“It’s a contact sport, and I think we all understand that,” Brady said. “There’s a lot of great benefits that football brings you, [but] certainly you can be put in harm’s way. You just do the best you can do as a player, and obviously it’s great that there’s more awareness for those types of things. That’s been a very important topic, certainly. But you just try to be proactive and take care of your body the best way you can.”
Brady is entering his 18th NFL season. That’s after five years at the University of Michigan, four years of high school football, and a few years in Pop Warner. He’s taken thousands upon thousands of hits, but he can’t conceive of a world where he doesn’t play football.
“I’ve never thought about not playing,” he said. “At least until my mid-40s, I said, so that’s a pretty good goal in and of itself, and then we’ll see when I get there. But it’s been so fun. Football’s been such a rewarding part of my life. I fell in love with the game when I was young, and I’m still in love with it today. It was, outside of my family, my first love.”
And it probably will remain his first love, even if he continues to suffer concussions.
Watch: Ben Volin and Jim McBride talk Tom Brady and the Patriots’ Friday scrimmage
Read the full transcript from Brady’s news conference Friday:
Q. How is 40 years old treating you so far?
A. “I woke up today feeling like I did yesterday morning and the day before that, so it was good. So many people came out and wished me a happy birthday so it was very nice. I had a lot of support and [it’s] fun to be on the field. It’s where I’ve been for a long time. I enjoyed it.”
Q. How much do you appreciate the fact that you are 40 and you’re still on the field doing what you love when so many aren’t?
A. “Yeah, I’m really blessed to play with such great teammates and coaches. To have the opportunity to come out and play every day is something I always cherish. I’ve been doing it for a long time and hopefully that’s given me a lot of experience to do the right thing and help our team the best way I can. Part of being a veteran player is really helping the younger guys with their learning curve and we’re working hard to accomplish a lot of things out here as camp goes on. There’s a lot of situations today with a lot of situations. It’s good to have the experience and it’s great to still have a love for the game and my teammates and my coaches and it’s fun every time I come out here.”
Q. How much has the process changed for you to get your body ready for every season?
A. “A lot, a lot. I’ve had to be smart about what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. The routine changes because your body changes and you have got to be smart as you get older. I’ve been working hard at it for a long time. I’ve got a great regimen and it’s a process for me. The best part about it is I enjoy what I’m doing so it never really feels like I’m working at it because I really love doing it. I love practicing, I love preparing, I love training and certainly I love playing. So it’s just a — I’m at a good point. Hopefully [I can] just keep it going.”
Q. What is it about practice that you enjoy so much?
A. “Well, I think it’s just you’re always working on things to try to get better and improve. I think part of this game is when you can see yourself making improvements you really work on certain things and that requires discipline, it requires work ethic. Then when you see it pay off in a positive way you want to keep doing those things that reinforce what you’re doing. I’m always trying to find different things to improve on. You evaluate over the course of a season and a lot of it, sometimes you go backwards a little bit — you get new players, you’re working on new things, new scheme stuff, other teams have gotten better — so you’ve got to continue to evolve your game. You just keep working hard at the things a) you’re good at b) the things you need work at and then c) collectively that you’re team needs to do and I think that’s part of the process that we work hard at every year.”
Q. One of the biggest stories that has transpired since you last spoke to the media was your wife saying that you suffered a concussion last season. Is that accurate?
A. “I don’t want to get into things that happened in my past, certain medical history and so forth. I really don’t think that’s anybody’s business, you know, what happened last year and I’m focused on this year and improving and working on things I need to get better at. That’s how I approach everything. I’m not sitting here worried about last year or five years ago. There’s other people that do worry about that — my wife or my parents or my sisters or people that love me and care about me — but I do the best that I can do to come out and be prepared to play, mentally and physically, and I give the game everything that I can.”
Q. There was a CTE study released last week. Do you pay attention to that and how much have you looked into that issue?
A. “Well, I think you’re not blind to it as a player. That’s why I believe in so much of being proactive with your health. I think when you’re a player and you see other players before you that did things a certain way and what’s transpired with their health or well-being and then you learn from it. I think that’s the things that I’ve really tried to incorporate in my own life. I’m confident in what I do. I’m confident in the things that I do and the ways I train but it’s a contact sport and I think we all understand that. There’s a lot of great benefits that football brings you [but] certainly you can be put in harm’s way. You just do the best you can do as a player and obviously it’s great that there’s more awareness for those types of things. That’s been a very important topic certainly. But you just try to be proactive and take care of your body the best way you can.”
Q. You’ve been out here eight days so far this year. How good is this team this year?
A. “Well, we’ve — there’s a lot of talent and guys certainly have worked hard but we’re just at the beginning like everybody else. The thing about football is you’re going to get out of it what you put into it. Nothing is really given to you and it’s very competitive. As we saw last year, the margin between winning and losing is very, very small, so anything can happen. There’s a long time before the games start counting in the standings. There’s a lot of improvement we can make. But it’s been fun to come out here and see what the guy’s mental toughness and attitude and work ethic is all about. The makeup of the team, that’s where your character is built. We’re still at the beginning but it’s been a lot of fun to be out here.”
Q. What have you seen from Brandin Cooks so far?
A. “He’s been a lot — he’s been I couldn’t say — he’s been great. [He’s] just so fun to be with, so fun to work with. He comes in every day with a great attitude and wants to work hard and is unselfish and been out here every day practicing and working on different things. He and I are building up a rapport but that takes a lot of time to be built. That goes all the way through the season. That’s one thing to start in camp. We had our spring camps in August and then you work through those things all the way through the season. There’s a lot of things that come up in the season that you never have a chance to practice. We’re working hard at it. We’re talking about things. There’s a lot of things that go on to try to improve the learning curve but he’s just been so much fun to be around. He really adds to a great group of other receivers that I’ve been fortunate to play with for a long time.”
Q. How important is training camp for building that chemistry between you and some of your receivers?
A. “Extremely important. There’s no way to — everything we do is to come out here and practice. Everything you do in the offseason for training and work outs and rest and recovery is to come out and prove it on the field. You can’t get better by not doing anything, at least that’s not what I believe. So I believe you have to be really active with your training, you have to go run the reps, you have to learn from mistakes. There’s certainly mistakes that are going to happen but you go through these reps and a lot of times they’re wrong and you’ve got to correct them. It’s just a process of trying it, seeing if it works, reevaluating, trying to do it better, then trying to get through as many of those things as possible before the games actually start counting in the standings.”
Q. What did you think of the catch Brandin Cooks made in the corner of the end zone today, and what is your connection like with him?
A. “Yeah, that was a great catch. You know, I tried to draw them offsides and we got them, so it was kind of a free play. I think I’ve seen some other teams do that. To make a 50-yard play, or however far that was, was a big play, but those are the kind of plays we need. If we can build those things into our offense and make some of those down-the-field plays, that takes some more pressure off other parts of the offense. Certainly, when guys are making plays that far down the field, they’ve got to cover and they’ve got to respect it. You know, I’ve always said I try to throw it where they’re not, so if they’re deep, you throw it short. If they’re short, you throw it deep. If they’re outside, you throw it inside. You try to throw it where they’re not, so that was a great example today of what we’re trying to do.”
Q. Earlier this year, Robert Kraft said he hopes you will play into your 50s. Do you have a general idea how long you want to keep playing?
A. “He said the 50s? I don’t think I’ve even said the 50s. Maybe once. You know, I just love doing it. Again, I’ve never thought about not playing. At least until my mid-40s, I said, so that’s a pretty good goal in and of itself, and then we’ll see when I get there. But it’s been so fun. Football’s been such a rewarding part of my life. I fell in love with the game when I was young, and I’m still in love with it today. It was, outside of my family, my first love. To get here and come out and play with the teammates I do and the coaches and represent this team and organization has been a dream come true. I’m a long ways from California, but I made this my home and I love coming out here and practicing and getting ready to play.”
Q. Coldplay is playing at Gillette Stadium tonight. Do you plan to see any of the show?
A. “They’re one of my favorite bands, so it’s pretty convenient tonight. I think I might try to sneak out there. I’d like to be out there. I think we have meetings to a certain point, but after that, I’d love to see it.”
Q. Did any of your teammates surprise you yesterday for your birthday?
A. “Yeah, I had a lot. It was fun. So many of these guys are so young, but they keep me young too. I got a nice birthday cake from Jimmy [Garoppolo] and Jacoby [Brissett]. Jacoby wrote “old” on it as my age, so they certainly have a lot of fun. But I had so many people that sent me notes, and it was very thoughtful.”
Q. Have you talked to any quarterbacks who played into their 40s and received any advice about ways to maximize your career?
A. “Yeah, I’ve become friends with Brett [Favre]. Brian Daboll coached him at the Jets and became friends and Brian Daboll was here, and Brett and I found a way to connect through Brian. He’s been someone that I’ve always talked to, so I really enjoy it. I just loved his style. I admired him for so long. We talked about certain things, but yeah, I mean, he was incredible playing as an older quarterback, and he still had a great love for the game. He was a phenomenal player. I always looked up to him.”
Q. What did the Super Bowl comeback mean to you and to your family?
A. “Yeah, I think it’s rewarding for me, but for our entire team. I think a lot of guys make a big commitment to play. We talked about some of the inherent risks in football. I think there’s a big sacrifice your family makes, as well. To get to this point takes a lot of people helping you along the way, and it’s a lot of support. You know, my wife takes care of our home in a great way that allows me the space to come out here and really play free not having to worry about certain things. My family, my parents have traveled from the West Coast to the East Coast, which is not an easy flight, for 18 years, and then going back to college, for 23 years. My sisters come here. My youngest sister moved out here to help me when I was younger and still lives out here. It just takes a lot of people, and you can’t play in your 18th year without a lot of people supporting you and loving you, whether that’s mentors or whether that’s people that just take care of things in your life that you couldn’t possibly take care of because of the commitment that you’re making to this sport. When it all pays off for us with winning and Super Bowls, it makes it very magical. We have a chance to celebrate that for the rest of our lives. You think about that in the big picture, and then you keep it focused on the short term and the obligations that you have to this team and what they’re asking me to do, and for the new players, what they expect of me. You’ve got to start that commitment fresh every year.”
Q. Were you impressed at the parade when Steve Burton threw you a pass on the duckboats?
A. “He did good. That was pretty good. He’s always had a good arm.”
Q. Rob Gronkowski said he switched to your training regimen this offseason. What kind of conversations did you two have when he made that switch?
A. “You know, a lot, and I’ve talked to a lot of different players, and Gronk’s really worked hard. He’s gotten older and I’m proud of him for the effort he’s put in this offseason. He always puts in a lot of effort. He’s got a great work ethic, so hopefully it really pays off for him. Again, it’s a contact sport, and you’ve got to prepare yourself as best you can for what we’re about to face. We put ourselves in harm way a lot. To me, you’ve got to be proactive about how you condition your body to be prepared for that. He’s done a great job of that, as have a lot of guys. Hopefully, we can make it a great season.”
Q. Do you view yourself as a pioneer or spokesperson for explaining your training regimen, not only with your teammates but also other guys around the league?
A. “Yeah, well I think a lot of people ask me when you get to be my age. Hopefully, I’ve gained some wisdom in the things that I’ve done. I’ve tried a lot of things; they haven’t worked. I’ve tried a lot of things; they’ve worked. And then you build on the things that work and then you throw away things that don’t work. I feel like I know what to do. I’ve had a lot of experience at doing it, and it’s paid off for me. I’ve really enjoyed the sport. I don’t wake up with pain. I come out and play a game and keep working on things that I want to improve at every year, and it’s been a lot of fun for me. Hopefully I can share that with a lot of people. It’d be great to pass on that wisdom. I feel that’s part of my responsibility as a player to do that to other players who may want to seek the same thing, so it’s been a really enjoyable part of my career.”