This Just In: Tom Brady In Decline!

By Michael Abruzzese, Ph.D.

©Copyright 2014; 2021 by Vista Health Services, Inc.

(I’m re-posting this article, written back in 2014, September 18th, in fact, when sports pundits were proclaiming the decline and imminent failure of TB12)

In Boston, perhaps even most of New England, Tom Brady and the Patriots are like the weather. People love to talk about them. More recently, though, conversations about Tom Brady have begun to resemble the discussion about climate change rather than simply the weather. Climate change: Is it man made? Or is it just environmental?  Tom Brady: Is he losing it? Or does he just need better receivers?

Psychology has an answer. But first of all, why should psychology even be interested in Tom Brady’s performance at all? The answer is pretty simple: According to research, when a local sports team wins, the people in the immediate environment actually feel better emotionally and the testosterone levels actually increase in fans – male fans, anyway – and it decreases when their team loses.

Psychologists have long known that fans psychologically identify with sports teams and the local mood can swing from euphoria to depression on the drop of a ball (as any Red Sox or Cubbies fan can attest), but the realization that a person’s actual body chemistry now hitches a ride along with every pass Tom Brady throws compels psychology’s interest.

Because it’s now a matter of psychological health and well-being. (Fear not: Psychology will focus on the NFL’s domestic violence issues in a later post.)

But like most of psychology’s explanations, the answer may seem counter-intuitive. Psychology suggests the real answer may reside not in Tom’s arm, but perhaps a little further up. Like in the team ownership.

Ask yourself: If the Patriots win another Super Bowl, who stands to win big? The fans, of course; Tom, most certainly; his team mates will, too. But will it make that much difference to the Patriots coach or ownership? Maybe not.

Everyone already thinks Bill Belichick is a super coach: Will people think he is a less of a super coach if he never wins another Super Bowl? Not likely; fans will most likely just blame Tom and argue about when his decline first started.

The Patriots are already a vastly profitable and valuable NFL franchise: Will it become less valuable if they don’t win another Super Bowl? Hardly.

Sure; if the Pats start losing big and no longer win their division, then there will be a big hit to the prestige and value of both the coach and franchise, but I don’t think the coach and ownership will let that happen. That’s because protecting oneself from losing what one has is always more of a motivator than taking the risk on winning a bigger prize. That is, people will usually fight harder to keep from losing a sure thing than they will to fight for a bigger prize;  psychologists and successful investors have known that for a long time and I think the Patriot ownership and coach have also figured that out, but perhaps they haven’t told the fans, Tom, or his team mates.

So what’s the answer? Is climate change real? Is Tom Brady declining? Psychology suggests that Tom is doing fine: He’s right where the Patriots ownership and coach want him to be.

(Addendum, 2021. TB12 is now in Tampa Bay, starting his second year there as quarterback, after winning his seventh Super Bowl there in the COVID sports year of 2020-2021). And yes, I still think he could have been with the Patriots, if the Patriots ownership and coach had wanted him to be there.

Michael Abruzzese, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist on Cape Cod and a former Clinical Instructor at Harvard Medical School. He is the author of Ten Lessons in Power Psychology; Psychology Tips and Techniques For People Who Would Never Visit a Psychologist’s Office.

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