As Tom Brady retires, Gisele Bundchen goes to work

As Tom Brady retires, Gisele Bundchen goes to work

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On Tuesday afternoon, People magazine published an article about Gisele Bündchen’s photo shoot in Florida. In a photo that accompanied the story, the model ran her fingers through her tousled mane while posing in a sheer dress on the beach. The sheer fabric clung to her sculpted calves, her six-pack abs, her-can-you-believe-I-had-two-kids breasts, all of it. She looked better at 42 than she had in her twenties when she spent a decade as the world’s highest-paid model. She was a woman whose physique resides at the rarefied intersection of genetics, effort and talent and who, after putting her own career on hold for 13 years so her ex-husband could play sports, finally got back on his feet.

Here for the past few weeks has been a freshly divorced Gisele posing topless in a Louis Vuitton ad, adorned mostly with a polka-dot handbag. Here’s a freshly divorced Gisele going for a run in Costa Rica with her handsome “family jiujitsu instructor,” which insiders swore was completely platonic.

On Wednesday morning, Tom Brady, him from sportsball, announced that he was retiring.

NFL quarterback Tom Brady announced his retirement Feb. 1 after 23 years in the National Football League. (Video: Tom Brady)

If online commentary theories are to be believed, these two events were connected. The couple’s split last year reportedly happened because Gisele wanted her husband to retire at the time and Tom just couldn’t give up the game.

No one but the couple knows the whole story. What we do know is that Tom has finally signed on for another season. Divorce lawyers were hired, ink was applied to the papers. Then Tom’s bonus season was a bust, and Gisele posed on a beach, and maybe the quarterback realized how much he’d given up to lose to the Dallas Cowboys.

Memes circulated after the announcement of Tom’s retirement. In the most evocative, the football star is portrayed as John Cusack in ‘Say Anything’, standing under Gisele’s window with a boombox, begging her to take it back. Boy, had this messed up doofus.

But he was trying, perhaps, to fix things? Note how he wrote “I love my family” under his Instagram ad – which, like Gisele’s photo shoot, appeared to take place on a Florida beach. Note how he had included a few images of Gisele in his Instagram Stories, but subtle ones: images of Gisele from behind, with her arms slung around their children. If Brady was trying some sort of “say anything” move, it was of the most respectful nature.

Wednesday afternoon, Gisèle responded directly to the announcement of Tom’s retirement. “Wishing you nothing but wonderful things in this new chapter of your life,” she posted.

Gisele’s display was a pleasant note of withdrawal, the kind of generically warm sentiments usually reserved for a graduation card signed by a distant aunt. It suggested that there would be no reunification, that the book of life could not be read or lived backwards, that Tom would begin this new chapter with Gisèle’s support but not with her.

Listen, I’m two-thirds done writing this column about Tom Brady’s retirement and divorce, and even I can’t tell you why I’m following this intimate celebrity gossip. I can barely tell a quarterback from a Quarter Pounder; I’ve never stood on a beach in a see-through dress while a stylist held a fan on my hair.

But this stratospherically famous marriage between two rich and beautiful people seems to tell us something about relationships in general, or what it means to negotiate a lifetime with another person. Which career takes precedence in the back seat? Who agrees to sacrifice himself, to move to Tampa, to be the one on duty when the kid vomits at school? Time is not infinite and neither is geography. You can’t have one parent walking a track in Milan while the other quarterbacks in Green Bay. How much does it cost to chase your own dreams or do your best to appropriate another person’s dreams?

Few of us can imagine what it would be like to be as good at anything as Tom Brady is at football – a gift that borders on the divine, as if bestowed by God. But I think most of us can imagine the kind of things he might have felt when he posted an Instagram post promising not to get emotional and get emotional nonetheless.

Maybe he was thinking about how he had gone to work for 23 painful and impossible years, building a legacy, leading by example, leaving everything on the field, winning like no one had ever won, and also losing, because no one can win everything all the time. He wondered maybe who he would be now, without all that. And he may have thought about how he had given everything he had to a calling, only to come to the end and wonder if it was all enough or too much.

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