Donald Trump and Bill Belichick

Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports

Author Mark Leibovich tells K&C why Patriots' affiliation with Trump hurt them more than Deflategate

Alex Reimer
September 04, 2018 - 9:44 am

For the last four years, New York Times Magazine chief national correspondent Mark Leibovich has been working on a tell-all book about the inner-workings of the NFL and Patriots. The title features extensive interviews with Robert Kraft and Tom Brady, both of whom open up about controversies ranging from Deflategate to Donald Trump.

In an interview with “Kirk & Callahan” Tuesday, Leibovich explained some of the reporting methods that he used to produce “Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times,” which is in bookstores today. At first, Leibovich, who wrote a lengthy New York Times Magazine profile about Brady prior to Super Bowl XLIX, says the story started as a Patriots-centric project, but he decided to turn it into a larger look at the league as a whole.

“I didn’t know if it could sustain a book,” Leibovich said. “There was so much, not Patriot hate, but just a lot of the country and book-buying public I thought was burned out, and as soon as they heard ‘Brady’ or ‘Patriots,’ we were just going to lose them without even thinking about the book itself. Also, I did a story on Goodell about a year later, and I just thought the story was much broader. And to be honest, also, I didn’t know if Tom could sustain a book. He’s a busy guy. After the (New York Times Magazine) story ran, we didn’t talk very much at all. It just didn’t work logistically. I think it’s fine. Tom has a role in the book. He’s obviously in the middle of the story. I follow him and I follow the Pats. So that was where the direction took.”

In the book, Leibovich claims Trump’s public Patriots fandom created more harm for the brand than Deflategate, going as far as to say rooting for the Patriots is a “racially and socially fraught identity.” When K&C pushed Leibovich on his statement, he said the Trump connection is omnipresent.

“You talk to anyone, and especially lots of African-Americans across the country, saying you root for the Patriots at a time when Donald Trump was essentially saying the Patriots were his team, would get a lot of blowback all over –– whether it was at some of the away games, where I live in DC,” he explained. “It’s just sort of a fact of life, especially if you’re from New England, as I am, and you live outside of town. It’s a very, very real thing. It’s something you hear repeatedly. It’s something I heard, frankly, probably more than anything I’ve heard as a Boston person throughout my life.”

Leibovich’s most recent Q&A with Brady occurred this past April, when the Patriots quarterback set over an Audio File containing his answers to some final questions. Within the file, Brady seems ambivalent about his Patriots’ future, saying they can “do whatever they want” with him. Like many reporters who have been around the team, Leibovich says he thinks Brady’s relationship with Belichick is fraught.

“It’s probably strained,” he said. “I think Tom will probably speak on this a little more fully than he has in the past. But it’s a marriage that’s had strains over 18 years, and it’s sort of a wonder they’ve fit together this long and had the success they’ve had. I think he probably wouldn’t mind sort of getting a taste of something else, but look, he’s stuck there, and they’re stuck with each other, so we get to watch them. They’re a great football team, and we get the benefit.”

While Brady and Kraft cooperated with the book, Belichick didn’t. Leibovich paints Kraft as “needy,” describing him as yearning for credit over the Patriots’ dynasty. But when it comes to the question as to why Brady spoke with him, Leibovich says he doesn’t think any ulterior motive was at play.

“(Brady) is an interesting and somewhat unpredictable guy,” Leibovich said. “I think he does like to operate outside of his line. He surrounds himself, we can say the least, with some unorthodox people, whether that’s Don Yee or Alex Guerrero or people if you dig deeper into his past. I think he’s open to people who aren’t in his daily orbit. But I don’t think he wanted to sell anything. He has a lot more sophisticated means of selling things than talking to a guy like me. But look, I was grateful for it. … I’ve said it before, I like him the best out of the whole Patriots operation. I think he’s the most genuine. And look, I just love watching him play. So maybe it’s just a fan boy bias.”