THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Joanna Weiss

Brady may have given to charity, but did he need to take from it?

By Joanna Weiss
Globe Columnist / September 14, 2010

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MAYBE THAT shellshocked look on Tom Brady’s face, in those photographs from last week’s accident, wasn’t just relief at surviving a car crash unscathed. Maybe the quarterback was feeling some well-deserved shame over the car itself: The $97,000 Audi S8 that shows the world precisely what Brady has become.

Even as he signed a $72 million contract extension, even with the supermodel wife and the glossy magazine spreads and the Back Bay penthouse and the $20 million California mansion, New Englanders have wanted to see Tom Brady as a regular guy. He’s our local star, whom we knew way back when, who still cares about the fans and those less fortunate.

That totalled Audi changed the calculation. The car with the Jersey plates, as Patriots fans now know, is owned by Best Buddies, a charity that helps the intellectually disabled. Brady has appeared at its events for several years. Audi has sponsored some of those events, donated money, and hired disabled interns.

In addition — in a move that arguably raises Audi’s profile far more than Best Buddies’ — the luxury carmaker has loaned cars to celebrities, out of “appreciation’’ for their good works. This is the third plush Audi that Brady has used in the last three years. Other Patriots players have gotten loaners, too, as has the charity’s founder, Anthony Shriver.

The relationship between charities and overpaid celebrities is complex, to be sure. A high-profile spokesperson can raise valuable attention and reap dividends in terms of donations. And giving is always a two-way street: good for the tax return, good for the ego, good for the public image.

But too easily and too often, charities become yet another way to give celebrities their perks, from fancy suites at swank fund-raising parties to jobs for underqualified relatives. The line between gratitude and compensation can get blurred. So can the line between right and wrong.

Giving an S8 to the world’s most famous football player makes perfect sense on Audi’s part. But it doesn’t speak well for Best Buddies, or for Brady’s vast team of lawyers, PR people, and karmic advisers. This is a luxury car that costs more than most people’s annual salaries, on loan to a guy who could afford several fleets of them. A guy who has apparently grown so used to seeing dollars as symbols — negotiation chips, ways of keeping score — that he’s lost sight of what money really means.

Is he going to use that extra 97 grand for gold-plated faucets or platinum baby strollers or whatever it is people buy when they have more money than God? Was he really out of touch enough to joke, in the locker room after Sunday’s game, that “I just wanted to get the 2011, so I had to crash the 2010’’?

There’s no point in begrudging Brady his outsized salary, the kind of compensation that Angelina Jolie once called “a stupid income, for what I do for a living.’’ This is how the marketplace works: Brady has a rare skill that brings people pleasure. He works hard on the gridiron and the practice field.

And there’s no reason to question Brady’s belief in the Best Buddies cause; he took part in the charity’s fund-raisers years ago, when he was still merely well-to-do. At this year’s big event, a run/walk/ride called the “Audi Best Buddies Challenge,’’ he even played flag football with the little people.

But let’s stop with the hero talk and the fawning justifications and simply call Brady what he is: Yet another athlete who’s gotten caught up in a clubby celebrity world, where wealth begets more wealth and outrageous perks are taken for granted.

Brady had a choice, after all. The honorable thing — for someone who makes a bazillion dollars and whose wife makes two bazillion — would have been to say, “Thanks, Audi and Best Buddies, but I’ll buy my own car. Take that $97,000 you’re writing off and use it for the charity, instead.’’

But Tom Brady took the car. He gave into temptation. And while that might make him human, it doesn’t make him one of us.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at weiss@globe.com.

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