It’s More Than Football: What Tom Brady Taught Me About Leadership, Mental Health, and Fighting Back

For me, Tom Brady helped me get through one of the most difficult times of my life, and for the first time, I’m ready (and proud) to share that story.

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Growing up, Tom Brady was a huge point of disagreement for my family. I remember running out in my Patriots jersey, ready to watch the big game, and my brothers rolling their eyes. I’m a Pittsburgher born and raised – why was I actively rooting for another team (especially the Patriots, one of America’s most hated dynasties)?

I can’t tell you where my love for football started, but I know it had something to do with being a young chess player and watching Coach Belichick talk about the importance of viewing football as a chess game. You have to strategize. You have to expect what your opponent is going to do. You have to keep playing even when you feel like giving up. I also knew that my brothers loved sports, and I wanted to talk about it with them.  

When I started watching Coach Belichick’s team, I rooted actively for a certain QB who everyone I knew disliked. I didn’t understand why the hatred was so strong, but I knew I enjoyed watching someone so passionate about something they loved (similar to how I love chess – a game people were surprised a girl played). Sundays became a day of intense waiting. I watched every Patriots game screaming to the top of my lungs through every win and every loss (luckily, we didn’t have too many of losses!). I was rooting for something more than the team, but people just didn’t get it. I didn’t feel comfortable sharing why I cared so deeply about someone I never met, so I kept quiet and just rooted for the team.

Some say I like Tom Brady because “everyone likes a winner.” Others say I only liked him for his looks (because God knows a girl can’t understand football). However, I find myself not only loving football as a sport, but also because Tom taught me something about life I’ll never forget. For me, Tom Brady helped me get through one of the most difficult times of my life, and for the first time, I’m ready (and proud) to share that story:

It was my sophomore year of high school. I was diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and OCD. I had these intrusive thoughts that became so bad I was afraid to stay home alone. I was constantly worried about my own thoughts (what’s real and what’s not). Anyone who has ever experienced anxiety and intrusive thoughts understands how scary this can be. You feel like you are scared to live and scared to die. 

One evening, I had a particularly bad episode of anxiety, and I opened up my phone to attempt to ease my mind. In between shaking and panic mode, a video of Tom Brady came up on my Facebook page. It was a press conference interview after a game. I couldn’t tell you the year of the video or the exact details, but I remember him talking about winning and believing in yourself when no one else will. He talked about how it sucks when you work hard and don’t achieve your goal, but you have to keep going. I watched with intent, with interest, and with passion. Tom said, “You can overcome challenges.” For a moment, my thoughts were not on how fast my heart was racing or overanalyzing why I was sad. Instead, I sat there questioning challenges I had experienced in my life and how I managed to overcome them. You could call it a mere act of coincidence, something out of a storybook or fairytale. You could call it a silly story for a person just obsessed with sports. However that video helped me through my hardest hour.

About a week later, I had a similar episode, only much worse. I pulled up the same video and then found myself finding more videos of him talking about hard times and leadership development. His words connected with my own life and story. It’s important to note that my sophomore year was so difficult because I was facing vast criticisms in my school and professional life. I kept fighting for things I cared about when no one else wanted me to stand up. People were upset that I was trying to fulfill my leadership positions and stood up for what was right when no one else would. This reminded me of Tom’s own struggles: People want to tear you down for being committed to excellence. 

Since then, I have been rooting for Tom. It’s not all about football. It’s about what Tom did for me, without him even knowing it. Tom taught me to keep fighting, to focus on winning, and that the biggest challenges in one’s life can become the best things to happen in your life. When I watch Tom play, I’m not just rooting for him and his team. I’m rooting for the young woman who overcame one of the darkest moments of her life. I’m rooting for myself and making it through even when you feel like you are falling apart.

Thank you, Tom, for helping me through a bad part of my life. Thank you for your leadership.

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