By Patrick Hruby
Page 2

Among the many reasons it's good to be Tom Brady -- the Super Bowl rings, the model/actress girlfriend, the shame-free snuggling with baby goats -- one in particular stands out.

Namely, getting the benefit of the doubt.

A few days ago, Brady voiced his support for teammate Deion Branch, a training camp holdout who wants more money than the New England Patriots currently are obliged to pay him. Without explicitly bashing team management, Brady made his feelings clear: Branch is the most important player on our offense. He's one of the best receivers in the league. Give him what he wants.

How did he do this? He skipped the first few practices. Yes, we're talking about practice, but any holdout large or small for a non-injury reason would get anyone else in the league several days of bad headlines. The team even released a statement that Brady had a "dead arm." What? No one but Mr. Brady would get such treatment.

In other words, Brady made essentially the same argument Drew Rosenhaus made on behalf of Terrell Owens last summer, and also the same argument Owens made on behalf of, er, himself.

Of course, you'd never know this from picking up the sports page.

Think back. Back to the driveway sit-ups. Back to Sal Paolantonio's death row vigil. Rosenhaus and Owens were pilloried for being selfish and disruptive, for putting me ahead of team and failing to honor a legitimate existing contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. Even feckless FEMA director Mike Brown didn't generate as much angry ink. Meanwhile, Brady has been lionized as a selfless team leader who takes care of his own -- in the words of one Boston Globe sportswriter, "a stand-up guy in a stand down situation."

Oh, and he probably helps blind grandmothers cross the street, too. The better to be reunited with their orphaned seeing-eye puppies.

To be fair, there's little unreasonable about commending -- or condemning -- Brady's position.

What's worth noting are the vastly different reactions provoked by Brady and Owens -- proof positive that in sports, what you do is often less important than who you are. At least when it comes to plaudits and put-downs. Indeed, athletic ethics aren't absolute. Or even situational. They're personality-driven. Jake Plummer throws an ill-advised pick into triple-coverage? He's a risk-taking dope who will never, ever learn. Brett Favre throws the same pass? He's a go-for-broke gunslinger who just wants to win. Andre Agassi smashes a racket, back in the days when he had lots and lots of hair? Disrespectful rock n' roll tennis brat.

Agassi smashes a racket during an upset loss at this week's Legg Mason Tennis Classic? The forgivable frustration of a classy legend, raging against Father Time.

Point is, athletes like Owens seldom get the benefit of the doubt. Guys such as Brady get it in spades.

Why? The former are widely loathed; the latter, loved.

Perhaps life really is like high school. Everything boils down to a popularity contest.

With that, Page 2 revisits some (mostly) recent high-profile gaffes, and how the rest of us might have reacted had Tom Brady been the one committing them:

Gaffe: Alex Rodriguez turns in a three-error, 0-4 performance at Yankee Stadium
The reaction: A-Rod booed, psychoanalyzed on talk radio, ripped in the tabs for sunbathing in the park with his wife and daughter. Rudy Giuliani -- Rudy Giuliani! -- publicly beseeches New Yorkers to ease up.
But if Brady had done it: Cheers from fans and supportive "ATTA BOY!" headline in New York Post, since everyone knows Brady is merely pressing too hard because he wants to win so very, very much. You know, like Jeets.

Gaffe: Oklahoma quarterback Rhett Bomar earns up to $18,000 for working five hours a week at a Norman, Okla., car dealership
The reaction: Bomar dismissed from team. Standard media hand-wringing over corruption in college athletics and/or of Our Precious Youth. School's NCAA compliance office unamused.
But if Brady had done it: Huzzah for Tom Terrific! Industrious, smart-working QB making more money in less time -- and a dollop of greater efficiency is just what the sagging American auto industry needs to compete with the likes of Honda and Toyota.

Gaffe: Shriveled, simpering Mark McGwire tells Congress he isn't here to talk about the past
The reaction: Cheater. Bit of a weenie. Summer of '98 a David Blaine-esque magical fraud. In the court of public opinion, guilty on all counts.
But if Brady had done it: What is this "past" you speak of?

Gaffe: Minnesota Vikings Love Boat scandal. On the the plus side, no minors or drugs were aboard!
The reaction: Cheap outrage, easy sanctimony, a motherlode of late-night monologue fodder. Just like the Congressional steroid hearings.
But if Brady had done it: A real leader fosters team solidarity on and off the field. What, you think America's quarterback only takes care of his offensive linemen in Visa commercials?

Gaffe: Zinedine Zidane drops Marco Materazzi with the fiercest forehead smash this side of a Steven Seagal direct-to-DVD feature
The reaction: Headbutt heard 'round the world inspires shock, disdain and some really funny online gifs. Zidane ejected from World Cup final; France loses in penalty kicks.
But if Brady had done it: Brady formally recognized by both NFL and National Highway Safety Administration for attempting to warn fellow QB Ben Roethlisberger about the dangers of riding a motorcycle without a helmet, albeit too little, too late; during Cup final, FIFA officials change rules on spot so that Brady not only stays in the game, but also takes all the penalty kicks during the decisive shootout.

Gaffe: After sprinter Justin Gatlin tests positive for elevated testosterone levels, coach Trevor Graham claims a massage therapist with a grudge rubbed steroid-tainted cream into Gatlin's legs
The reaction: Laughter, mostly. A few tears. The funny kind.
But if Brady had done it: Bush Administration orders nation's masseuses, chiropractors, acupuncturists rounded up and shipped to Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Just to be on the safe side.

Gaffe: Major League Baseball puts the kibosh on the Milwaukee Brewers' newest mascot racing sausage, a Chorizo, because it didn't go through the league's approval process regarding new characters and promotions. Never mind that the same approval process rubber-stamped the Washington Nationals' Screech.
The reaction: Widespread scorn and derision. Who doesn't love a spicy Chorizo? !MLB es muy malo!
But if Brady had done it: CNN's Lou Dobbs salutes Brady for protecting our "Broken Borders."

Gaffe: Mel Gibson pulled over for drunk driving; actor who once played Hamlet interrupts "I own Malibu" soliloquy to discuss Sugar [Expletives], the Hollywood Zionist Conspiracy
The reaction: (Nelson voice) Ha ha! Also, public just now notices that bearded "Apocalypto" Gibson bears a creepy, curious resemblance to courtroom Saddam Hussein.
But if Brady had done it: Officer Sugar [Expletive] issues public apology on behalf of MPD; National Institutes of Health suggests that individuals drink eight glasses of tequila, not water, a day; a New York Times investigative report reveals that 12 Jewish bankers in Zurich control not only Hollywood but also the planet, and that Elvis is alive, well and residing in a bunker under Area 51, where he and Tupac are recording a series of duets.

Gaffe: In a softball television interview intended to buoy her sinking public image, Britney Spears pretty much goes "Poseidon."
The reaction: Dear Brit: Thanks for napalming our schoolgirl fantasies. And what's with the gum chewing? Sincerely, America.
But if Brady had done it: President Bush uses air quotes -- to great acclaim -- during next State of Union address.

Gaffe: During Britney Spears interview, Matt Lauer crosses legs
The reaction: Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Let 'em breathe, you sockless masochist!
But if Brady had done it: Viewers still wince. Nobody's perfect. Not even Brady.

Patrick Hruby is a columnist for Page 2. Sound off to Page 2 here.