The Patriot Way: Analyzing the precarious cultural tension in Foxborough

Rigid decorum can only veil widespread tension so much in the age of modern media. In Foxborough, Massachusetts, the levy is ready to break on the Patriot Way.      

The New England Patriots have been to eight, and won five, Super Bowls in the 21st century, reached the last seven AFC Championship games, and won the AFC East nine consecutive seasons. Their level of dominance the past decade is unprecedented, and entitlement is beginning to stretch the seams of unity.

Quarterback Tom Brady, coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft rule the modern NFL, despite their recent let down at the eleventh hour of SB LII. But their days upon the throne may be numbered, according to multiple reports alleging tension between the three cornerstone figures of the Patriots dynasty and amid the organization as a whole.

An ESPN report by Seth Wickersham in January detailed “serious disagreements” between Kraft, Belichick and Brady. Chief among these disputes were Brady’s close friend, trainer and health guru Alex Guerrero. The team’s long term designs at quarterback (Brady is 40, yet insists he plans on playing another 3-5 years) and decision to trade former backup and golden boy Jimmy Garoppolo (now the NFL’s second-highest paid player in San Francisco) for a second-round pick. In addition to Belichick’s authoritarian, militaristic coaching style.

Tension at 1 Patriot Place is not limited to the iconic trio at the helm. Pro Bowl tight end and high profile celebrity Rob Gronkowski is reportedly considering retirement or a move to the WWE due to growing displeasure with Belichick’s rigid system of decorum.

“Stay Lit, be FREE, be HAPPY,” Gronkowski tweeted at former teammate Danny Amendola after the slot receiver signed with the Miami Dolphins.

Gronk’s cryptic wisdom did not stop there.

“Foresee your own future, control your own temptations, and your destiny will be not just be reached, it will just be starting,” Gronk wrote.

I’m not going to begin trying to decipher that one, so let it suffice to say this elegant piece of prose indicates indecision on Gronk’s part. In addition to Amendola, last year’s leading rusher Dion Lewis, starting left tackle Nate Solder, and shut down corner and Super Bowl L hero Malcolm Butler have all departed New England this offseason.  

The NFL’s Death Star looks more vulnerable than it has in a decade.

Illustration by Ian Duffus

“Bill’s (Belichick) done a phenomenal job of holding the building together,” one Patriot staffer admitted in the ESPN report.

I’m not saying the end is near. To be frank, anybody who doesn’t expect New England to compete for a title next year hasn’t been watching the last 10 years of the NFL closely. Brady is the greatest to ever grace the gridiron and “Darth Hoodie” is the best coach to ever saunter the sidelines.

But this is the beginning of the end. Tom will someday succumb to Time, albeit with six or seven rings to assuage any hit his pride will take in finally admitting mortality.

Belichick is another story. His authoritarian style of leadership may have an even more limited lifespan.

Militarism in coaching runs against the cultural spirit. Players are assuming increased agency across the board in the sports world, and the revolt in New England is only a manifestation of this trend.

At least Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr is hip. Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and the defending NBA Champions coached themselves in February.

“I told (our players) the other night after the last game that they were gonna do it. It’s their team,” Kerr said. “I think that’s one of the first things you have to consider as a coach: it’s not your team, it’s not (the owner’s) team. It’s the players’ team. They have to take ownership of it, and as coaches, our job is to guide them. But we don’t control them. They determine their own fate.”

Careful, Bill. They are taking ownership, and they will determine your fate, if you don’t tread lightly.

Zach Joachim, Sports Editor

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