Adam Schefter was right.
On Saturday, the NFL’s reporter of record broke the story that Tom Brady was retiring after 22 seasons, alongside consummate Brady insider Jeff Darlington. Within minutes, Brady’s camp issued a flurry of denials. Agent Don Yee said his client “will be the only person to express his plans with complete accuracy,” and Tom Sr. attributed the hoopla to an “online publication circulating an unsubstantiated rumor.” Never mind that Brady’s fitness company, TB12 Sports, seemingly confirmed ESPN’s report with a now-deleted tweet of its own. Brady was in full cover-up mode.
That act continued Monday, when Brady told Jim Gray on his podcast he is “not going to race” to a decision about retirement. Brady added he was just trying to enjoy a “nice weekend” when Schefter and Darlington ruined his plans with their premature report.
Brady may be in business with ESPN, but somebody forgot to tell him that doesn’t mean the company’s news operation is beholden to his personal timeline. On Tuesday morning, Brady announced his retirement, confirming Schefter and Darlington’s story.
Does anybody really think Brady was still wavering about his decision on Saturday afternoon, only to officially retire less than 72 hours later?
While it’s understandable Brady wanted to make his own announcement, it doesn’t always work that way, especially when you’re the most famous athlete in American sports. Schefter is often accused of working in concert with NFL teams and agents, and those suspicions were backed up when we found out he emailed a full story about the 2011 lockout to former Washington president Bruce Allen — I’m sorry, “Mr. Editor” — for suggestions on possible changes.
But on this one, Schefter seemingly operated independently. Kudos to him and ESPN for not backing down.
“He has not announced anything, but he will be doing that relatively soon,” Schefter said Saturday night. “So perhaps when he’s ready, when he speaks to the Buccaneers, which he hadn’t yet done. So I think there are some steps he wants to go through here before he is ready, but make no mistake about it, that time is coming.”
NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport ran with a similar line as well. For a weekend, Brady’s pending retirement was the worst kept secret in sports.
Let’s face it: it’s highly unlikely Schefter and Darlington would’ve run with their story without receiving confirmation from somebody high in Brady’s orbit. More than anything, their report made Brady look bad, since he reportedly hadn’t yet informed the Buccaneers of his decision.
But that’s not their problem. Reporters are supposed to report the news, not manage public relations for their ultra-famous subjects.
There are a couple of theories regarding how Schefter and Darlington got ahead of Brady. WEEI’s Chris Curtis said a source told him Brady was planning to announce the news in the final episode of his ESPN+ series, “Man in the Arena,” and somebody involved in the production leaked it. If that’s the case, then Brady was downright naive. His docuseries collaborator, Gotham Chopra, said last week they are delaying the final “Man in the Arena” episode until springtime. There’s no way Brady thought he would be able to keep his retirement secret for several more weeks, right?
Brady is the ultimate perfectionist, but it sure looks like he screwed up his big announcement. Again, it’s implausible Schefter and Darlington weren’t 100 percent confident about their story before publishing. Somebody in Brady’s world slipped up.
Brady has gotten everything in life: seven Super Bowls, a supermodel wife, universal recognition as the greatest football player ever. Having his retirement Instagram post preempted is hardly a sob story.
Brady and his camp spent three days gaslighting Schefter. But in the end, he was vindicated.