Seth Wickersham on why it’s better to be feared 

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) passes the ball against New Orleans Saints during the second half at Caesars Superdome. Photo by Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports.

ESPN senior writer Seth Wickersham, author of It’s Better to Be Feared, visited the University of Connecticut on Thursday, Oct. 28. He came to talk about his book and the relationships he has with the New England Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick and former quarterback Tom Brady. 

UConn Journalism hosted Wickersham, and sold his books outside of the Konover Auditorium ahead of the event with Seth sticking around after to sign copies. Mike Stanton, a professor in the Journalism department, led the talk with an interview before opening it up to questions from the students and staff members in the audience. 

“I don’t think any of these guys cared about being loved, I think they wanted to be feared and respected and that was really, you know, a trait of their dominance,” Wickersham said on his choice to pick this title and why he thought it worked. 

Wickersham’s book examines how the Patriots’ dynasty was built, and then what led to its decline as Tom Brady chose to move to Tampa and become a Buccaneer. 

Ultimately, Wickersham attributes Brady’s decision to leave as a result of his dislike for what he calls the “Belichick system.” 

This is “an environment that is so emotionless…that’s just kind of who Bill Belichick is and that’s just kind of his personality and he built an entire program that was wildly successful, based off of his personality,” Wickersham explained. 

He emphasized his uncertainty of if the Patriots, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick included, would have won as many Super Bowls as they did had Belichick not been as rigid as he was. No other organization with a coach or a player accomplished what they did. 

This is because Belichick’s mindset was so focused on winning, he would lead his team to do whatever it took to do so. He didn’t fear consequences, the decision-makers of what consequences would be after the Patriots filmed coaching signals in what is known infamously as “Spygate,” feared Belichick since it would be only him who could come up with something like that. 

If Belichick could be so creative to find another way to win games that wasn’t an explicit rule in the NFL, what else could be come up with? What else have the Patriots been doing this whole time? 

This is the fear that built the Patriots’ dynasty to what it’s been for the past couple of decades. 

“You want Bill Belichick doing your taxes, because he would find all the loopholes and then when they’d close them, he’d figure out what the new loopholes were,” Wickersham said of the respect that the NFL has for Belichick. 

The loophole for keeping Brady in New England would’ve been to show some appreciation and visible love for the famed quarterback, which the Patriots’ owner and the head coach couldn’t manage to do. 

“The two people in this world who should’ve known better than to underestimate Tom Brady are Rob Kraft and Bill Belichick; and they did just that,” Wickersham stated. 

Making the analogy to colleges, Wickersham compares the Patriots to Harvard Law School and then notes similarities between the Buccaneers and Florida State University. At the former, wins are merely acknowledged; while down South, Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians fixes cocktails after games. 

Overall, Wickersham believes that the latter is the environment that Tom Brady seems to thrive in, according to science that Belichick ordered for the team in several internal studies. Wickersham says that the way Bill often conducts these studies is “one of the most interesting things about him.” 

The result of these studies, which Wickersham does highlight in his book, is that Tom Brady performs best while in a positive and supportive environment full of love. Wickersham summarized that this is unlike another great athlete also included in the study, Michael Jordan, who performed better when fueled by rage and negative outside factors. 

“Brady was different. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t use those external things as motivation but he’s very internally motivated,” Wickersham said. 

This is ultimately why it’s better to be feared—because people become scared of your achievements and your own personal successes pushes you to continue to be constantly on top of your game, because it’s terrifying not to be. 

On behalf of the audience, Professor Stanton asks how Tom Brady was still as successful as he was in New England, considering he was playing in an environment that did not set him up to be high-achieving. 

“He was just that good,” Wickersham bluntly states about Tom Brady’s talent, especially in less-than-ideal conditions for him. 

In his respective field of sports journalism, Seth Wickersham is also “that good.” 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) calls an audible at the line in the second half against the Chicago Bears at Raymond James Stadium. Photo by Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports.

In order to write this book and be able to speak to UConn Journalism, Wickersham needed to establish a career as a respected reporter and writer in professional sports. 

His first story was in 2001 on “the guy filling in for Drew Bledsoe,” Wickersham recalls. On this day, Brady had lost a bet in the Michigan vs. Michigan State game and was carrying a backpack full of beers. At this same point, he could be found at Red Sox games, but no one was looking for him, or really even knew who he was, Seth said. 

“One of the things that I wanted to write about in the book, that I really enjoyed writing about, was fame and what happened to his life because it really…I mean, his entire life changed in about a five-month span,” Wickersham shared. 

The next time he saw Brady, Seth says that the quarterback had become “famous in this region in a magnitude that very few people were.” 

Wickersham, at a similar point in his life and development of a career, saw a lot of himself in Brady. 

“That first time I met him, you know it felt like we were kind of the same species,” Wickersham admits. 

Going back to the “emotionless” environment that the Patriots developed for themselves and anyone who dared to enter, Wickersham discussed how he was able to be a successful journalist and conduct the interviews he did with the team. 

In a comically similar Patriots’ fashion, though seemingly unintended, Wickersham states that “As a journalist, you have to do your job…. There’s a lot of ways you can do this job.” 

Wickersham saw the opportunity ahead of him at ESPN to cover Tom Brady from the beginning stages of both of their careers, and seized it; just like Tom did when he stepped up as the Patriots starting quarterback in 2001. That’s how you do your job. 

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