Lost in the uproar over whether NFL players should stand for the National Anthem is the release of a new book by the celebrated Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady.
Even more lost is the most important message of that book, which is not, as most reviewers believe, the importance of what Brady and his trainer call “pliability,” but something even more startling and controversial: the importance of taking responsibility for your own health, or lack thereof.
The book is called The TB12 Method and, disappointingly, it’s largely an infomercial for a line of products that Brady and his mysterious “body coach” Alex Guerrero want everyone to buy. Peak performance sustained over a lifetime, it appears, is not just a matter of discipline, talent and grit, but can be enhanced with supplements, snacks and sleepwear sold under the patented TB12 label.
Set aside the product placement, however, and the core message of the book is that Brady’s astonishing achievements are due largely to a training program, designed by Guerrero, that employs powerful manipulation of muscles to elongate and soften them. Guerrero’s technique makes the body pliable and able to endure whatever forces come against it, whether they be a couple of Carolina Panthers defensive ends or the inexorable march of time.
Intuitively, the strategy makes sense, and Brady, who is playing his 18th season of professional football at age forty, may be the GOAT because of Guerrero’s ministrations and holistic coaching.
Then again, he may be the GOAT because of Guerrero’s ministrations combined with an array of God-given blessings that include a supportive, two-parent family (which included a stay-at-home mother and a father who got up early to train with his children before school and then threw balls to his son after work, still in his dress shirt). Also, a dimpled, 6’4’’ physique that is attractive to supermodels.
Brady, however, demurely insists that he has no special gifts, that, in fact, he was disadvantaged by a body that recruiters dismissed as “poor build” and “very skinny and narrow.” His story of being picked 199th in the NFL draft—which, as he explains, means that “I was passed over by every team in the NFL somewhere between four and six times”—is genuinely inspiring. And although he is not universally loved outside of New England, when Brady is retired and no longer crushing the Super Bowl dreams of Seahawks, Giants and Rams fans, his platform could grow even wider than it is now.
Which is why what’s on the last page of Brady’s book is so important.
It’s there, after the glossy fangirl photos and recipes for avocado ice cream and seasonal salad with savory vinaigrette, that Brady timidly reveals values that might be dangerously construed as conservative, particularly in Massachusetts.
He says that individuals need to take responsibility for their own health and daringly suggests, “We are not victims.”
“We all have choices, and our lives are what we make of them. I believe we need to be proactive participants in our own health and well-being,” he writes.
There’s more: “Hold yourself—not your doctor or your coach—accountable. Good health and a good life don’t just happen.”
These are incendiary words in a society that often blames the poor health of its citizenry on an ill-designed health care system. It’s not nice to point out that the people breathing hard on sidewalks and tracks, or doing laps in a YMCA pool while others are still sleeping, are extending their own lives and usefulness, in part, so that they can pay for the health care of others who aren’t similarly inclined.
It’s also unpopular to point out that poor choices about what we consume and how we spend our leisure time are responsible for a staggering amount of illness and disease in the U.S., and many of these conditions can be improved with better choices, not only early in life, but also in our later years, if only we are willing to do the hard work.
The late physician John F. Knowles, who once predicted that the next breakthrough in medicine would be “the patient taking responsibility,” also wrote that disease prevention requires “forsaking the bad habits that many people enjoy—overeating, too much drinking, taking pills, staying up at night, engaging in promiscuous sex, driving too fast and smoking cigarettes,” as well as making ourselves do things that many people find distasteful: exercising, going to the dentist and “ensuring harmonious family life.”
Knowles, who headed the Rockefeller Foundation, died of pancreatic cancer at age 52, becoming fodder for critics who say an individual’s choices don’t matter all that much after all; that, when he’s ready, the reaper beckons whether we ate ice cream or kale. That’s true, of course, and Knowles himself acknowledged that there will always be Winston Churchills among us: people who live to age ninety and beyond despite lives full of stress, tobacco, rich foods, brandy and copious amounts of champagne.
But they, like Brady, are the outliers, the genetically gifted. Most of us are propelled by our habits to an early grave. Kneel or stand, anything’s better than sitting, and health care in American will never be “reformed” until the mass of us reform our personal habits. Brady hints at that in his book. Would that he would champion that idea as much as muscle pliability.