As of this writing (around 1:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday), one of the top headlines on ESPN.com reads, “Sources: Brady has yet to say he’ll play in ’18.”
Pretty dramatic, right? Between the wording, the invocation of “sources” and the placement on the website, you might get the idea that Brady, on the heels of an MVP season is seriously considering walking away from football.
Then you open up the story, written by Adam Schefter, and you see this quote…
“My money would be on him playing football for the foreseeable future, but what goes on away from the football field, I don’t know,” one source told ESPN. “I don’t know.”
And this one…
“I believe he’s going to be there,” another person who knows Brady told ESPN. “However, having said that, we’re dealing with a human being. Things can change. But I do believe he will be playing.”
And then you scan for the juicy nugget about how Brady is seriously weighing retirement, and you don’t find it. And you realize that Brady will almost certainly return next year, making this story and the way it was displayed look like alarmism meant mostly to rile up Patriots fans and give ESPN’s afternoon talk shows something to argue about.
This isn’t Schefter’s fault, per se. In both his story and his corresponding tweet, he explained clearly that his sources were confident Brady would be back, whether or not the quarterback has officially committed. He got a (small, not terribly significant) scoop and reported it with proper context. But ESPN has to know that publishing a story like this and treating it as if it’s big news does little more than delude fans into thinking Brady’s retirement is a greater possibility than it was.
Patriots’ QB Tom Brady still has not committed to playing in 2018, even though people who know him believe he will back coming season, league sources told ESPN.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 18, 2018
As we have written about at length in the past, ESPN has a bit of a contentious relationship with Patriots Nation. Between the network’s coverage of Deflategate and its reporting last fall about tension between Brady, Bill Belichick and Bob Kraft, New England fans have come to regard ESPN with suspicion. Some of their complaints are fair while others are a bit conspiratorial, but in this case… let’s just say when Barstool and Deadspin find common ground on something, there’s probably some merit.