Tom Brady retires again: The cost of holding on to success for too long

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Tom Brady retires again: The cost of holding on to success for too long

February 1, 2023 -

FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2020 file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady signals to a teammate before the team's NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Tennessee Titans in Foxborough, Mass. Brady, the seven-time Super Bowl winner with New England and Tampa Bay, announced his retirement from the NFL on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023 exactly one year after first saying his playing days were over, by posting a brief video lasting just under one minute on social media. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2020 file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady signals to a teammate before the team's NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Tennessee Titans in Foxborough, Mass. Brady, the seven-time Super Bowl winner with New England and Tampa Bay, announced his retirement from the NFL on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023 exactly one year after first saying his playing days were over, by posting a brief video lasting just under one minute on social media. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2020 file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady signals to a teammate before the team's NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Tennessee Titans in Foxborough, Mass. Brady, the seven-time Super Bowl winner with New England and Tampa Bay, announced his retirement from the NFL on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023 exactly one year after first saying his playing days were over, by posting a brief video lasting just under one minute on social media. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

“I’ll get to the point right away, I’m retiring. For good.”

With those words, Tom Brady announced his retirement from the NFL exactly one year after the last time he called it quits.

While he only stayed away for a mere six weeks then, his present announcement has a very different feel to it. His life has changed quite a bit in the last year, and those who know him well seem convinced that after twenty-three years in the league, there will not be a twenty-fourth.

But even though Brady is retiring, he’s not going anywhere.

Last offseason, when it looked like his playing days were over, Brady inked a ten-year, $375 million deal with Fox Sports to join their ranks as a broadcaster and company “ambassador.” That arrangement was put on hold following his decision to return, but it appears to have been a standing offer.

So, as Seth Wickersham writes in a brilliant and honest eulogy to Brady’s career, he is “retiring from football by staying in football.”

You can’t help but wonder, though, if part of him wishes he’d made that decision a year sooner.

Asking the wrong question

After he won his record seventh Super Bowl three years ago, his wife—Gisele Bündchen—asked him, “What more do you have to prove?”

It turns out, that was the wrong question.

Brady had long moved past the need to prove anything to anyone beyond himself. Most already considered him to be the greatest quarterback of all time, and he would add to that legacy by the end of the following season after becoming the NFL leader in passing yards, completions, and passing touchdowns.

However, as Wickersham notes, “he wanted to do what he loved. He wanted to live his dream, beyond what others could dream possible. He wanted to keep sacrificing for his career.”

But the main thing he sacrificed was his family, and his return last summer was the final straw.

Bündchen had already set aside a lucrative career in fashion to raise their kids, and the social media posts that often depicted a happy family did not always match the reality.

Wickersham puts it well: “You can only imagine what it must have felt like to be Bündchen. She had joked in a non-joking way for years about Brady’s ‘first love’ being football. It seemed less funny when he announced his comeback, saying that 40 days away—40 days with his family—had taught him that his ‘place is on the field, not in the stands.'”

The couple would get divorced that November.

An addiction to greatness

To his credit, Brady understood his failings as a father.

In the ESPN+ series Man in the Arena, Brady lamented, “I know I’m not as good of a dad as my dad’s been to me. I think maybe what I’d wish for my children is to find something they really love to do like I have, but I think I’ve taken it to an extreme too, you know? There are imbalances in my life. I hope they don’t take things as far as I’ve taken them. There’s a torment upon me that I don’t wish upon them.”

Many professional athletes—and others who exhibit a similar dedication to their careers—would likely say the same. But whereas some persist from an addiction to relevance, Brady’s choice speaks more to an addiction to greatness.

As Wickersham describes, “It’s easy to be busy. It’s hard to be the greatest ever at something again. You can’t re-create it. [Brady] seems to know this. . . . He is steeped not in denial, rather in reality. He knows the moment an NFL game kicks off without him, it’s gone, forever.” Wickersham goes on to add that all great athletes feel like they “could keep playing forever. With Brady, it’s true. His dominance outlasted his will, which is bizarre to think about.”

“He must increase, but I must decrease”

While you and I may never know what it’s like to be “the greatest ever at something,” we’ve all likely known success in one form or another, even if only for a time. In such instances, one of the most difficult things to do is to remain open and committed to following God’s lead when he calls us to move on to something else.

In John 3, we find John the Baptist and his disciples facing a similar transition.

Their work was still thriving, and people were still coming in droves to be baptized. But Jesus had begun his public ministry as well, and John’s disciples were concerned that some in the crowds who had followed him were now leaving to follow Jesus. You almost get the sense that they’re asking John what he’s going to do about it.

They’d seen all the great things God had done through John—they’d even been part of it. John had been doing amazing work for the kingdom of God, but now all of that seemed to be slipping away. Surely, there was something they could do to save it.

After all, a ministry as great as John’s couldn’t just fade away, right? How could that be part of God’s plan?

It’s only natural to want to hang on to something that has been going well. But the problem comes when we try so hard to hang onto what we have that we miss what God’s wanting to give us in the future.

John’s solution was to remember that the ministry they were trying so hard to protect never belonged to them in the first place. It was God’s, and he had a plan for each of them going forward if they were willing to let go of what they had in order to receive it.

And to make sure they understood what that meant, he summed it up by saying of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Trusting God when his plans don’t make sense

John understood that the call to change does not mean what we’ve been doing is bad. Rather, it just means that what God has in store for us going forward is that much better.

John could find peace in trusting God’s plans, even when those plans may not have made sense, because his focus was on seeing the Lord increase above everything else.

What was true for John and his disciples is equally true for each of us today.

So the next time God calls your life to go in a different direction, trust that his will is best—even if you can’t see how that could be the case.

As long as our focus is on seeing Jesus increase, it will be worth it in the end.

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