HOUSTON — Tom Brady no longer gets a pass on his friendship with Donald Trump.
Not after this weekend, when the country boiled over in rage and indignation at Trump’s decision to turn America’s back on refugees. Not after this season, when Colin Kaepernick was pilloried from coast to coast for trying to draw attention to the shortcomings of our country.
And not when he’s about to command the NFL’s biggest stage.
Brady and the New England Patriots arrive here Monday, a few hours before the Super Bowl “Opening Night.” While the event has turned into a circus – this is where Brady famously got a marriage proposal from a Mexican TV reporter in a wedding dress – he can expect to get some tough questions about Trump.
As well he should.
Trump’s campaign was steeped in racism, bigotry and misogyny, and he has doubled down on his hatred in his first week as president. It’s left Americans across the country angry and frightened, fearful that the ideals that have made this country exceptional for more than 200 years are being abandoned.
Brady might not agree with Trump’s views or his policies, as he seemed to indicate last week during his weekly appearance on WEEI’s “Kirk and Callahan” radio show. His support might have more to do with Trump’s many golf courses than the man himself.
But in refusing to publicly disavow Trump's actions, Brady is giving tacit endorsement to both Trump and the chaos he has created.
“Why does that make such a big deal?” Brady said when his friendship with Trump was raised. “I don’t understand that. … I don’t want to get into it, but just – if you know someone, it doesn’t mean that you agree with everything that they say or do. Right?
“There’s things I don’t believe [in], absolutely. I don’t believe in, you know, there’s a lot of things,” Brady continued. “Not to denounce anything, it’s just that there’s different things that I feel like, you know ... I don’t agree with everything. That’s fine, right?”
No, it’s not.
There are plenty of people in the NFL – owners, executives and players – who are Trump supporters. But no one was as public as Brady, who had a “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker way back in September 2015.
Brady is not dumb, nor is the four-time Super Bowl champion and NFL’s cover boy oblivious to his image. He knew the hat was going to get noticed, he knew it was going to get coverage and he was fine with it.
It’s only now, when he’s facing questions and criticism, that he thinks the friendship should be off limits. But it doesn't work that way. If you stake out a position, you need to own it. Or if you’ve had a change of heart, explain why.
If Brady needs an example of how that’s done, he can look at Kaepernick.
From the day his national anthem protest became public in August, Kaepernick has been open, available and consistent with his opinion. It has not been a popular one; as the protests spread across the league, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback was portrayed as anti-American, anti-military and anti-police – all of which he denies.
He’s had insults, slurs and worse directed at him. He was blamed for the drop in TV ratings early in the season. One person last week even tried to say Trump’s election was partly the result of Kaepernick’s protests.
It would have been easy for Kaepernick to brush off questions or say he’d rather talk about football, as Brady has done. Instead, he’s been eloquent in detailing his concerns over police brutality in minority communities. He’s sparked conversations and reflection in NFL locker rooms and beyond.
Regardless of whether he was duped into being a prop or is genuinely friends with Trump, Brady inserted himself into the national firestorm. He can’t be surprised that people want to know more. And now expect more.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.