FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Phillip Dorsett sat on a table in the New England Patriots' training room after he had just completed the physical device that officially made him a member of the franchise. At that moment one of his new teammates came into the room and walked straight towards him. "Hello," said the teammate. "I am Tom Brady."
"I like that, I know who you are," Dorsett said this week, laughing. "You do not have to introduce yourself."
Dorsett, a wide receiver, looks like almost every other Patriot. While Brady was winning Super Bowls and became an international celebrity, Dorsett grew up. He was 9 when Brady won his first Super Bowl. The players who will play alongside Brady in an AFC division round play-off game Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers have watched his highlights during – and even before – adolescence. Football players have never been separated from their teammates for more than four years. Patriots rookies suddenly had a quarterback this season that was 19 years older than they are.
Brady became 41 years old in August, making him the oldest non-kicker in the NFL. He belongs to a protected class under the Age Discrimination Act. He is ten years older than all six patriots. About 30 of his teammates are a bit older this season in the neighborhood of Brady's 11-year-old son Jack than Brady.
It places him in an unusual position. As Josh Friedens, Patriots' offensive coordinator, said: "One of the big roles a quarterback plays in the team is simply being able to communicate openly with each of his teammates." Brady, age, offers an obstacle to that role. As he grew older, the age gap between him and his teammates inevitably grew, until his teammates were of an entirely different generation.
Brady & # 39; s primary strategy in navigating the age gap at his workplace is to ignore it.
& # 39; You know, I do not think about those things, & # 39; said Brady. "The fact that I'm older just means I'm a little longer, I just feel like I'm doing what I've always done, I really enjoy it, I've had a great time practicing, playing. great to be part of a team. "
It is possible for Brady to set aside age differences because of the nature of his workplace. Brady spent his entire career in the dressing room of the patriots and little by little he was surrounded by millennials. A football dressing room, however, is a place of suspended youth.
"We're joking about it: he's 41, but he's really 24", said backback quarterback Brian Hoyer. "When I go home, I may feel 33. But when I come here, I feel as old as when I was a rookie." The locker room does not change, people can change, but the environment and the atmosphere – they do not talk about what we talked about 10 years ago, so you better go on with it or get lost, I think he's very well aware of those things, and doing this work keeps you so young. "
But Brady makes serious contact with his teammates. It starts with the greeting that Dorsett had in the training room. Every time a new player draws, regardless of his height, Brady makes it a point to say hello. A quarterback who does not need an introduction has become an expert.
"He is one of the first guys in the building who knows the name of a new person," said McDaniels.
Broad recipient Damon Patterson, 24, joined the practice selection of the Patriots in November. On his first day, Brady opened a door for him, which was "a bit shocking for me," Patterson said. The next day Brady approached Patterson and asked, "How are you, man? What is your name?"
"That was a bit of a dream," Patterson said.
Younger teammates say they can talk to Brady about the music and pop culture they consume. In the training camp saw teammates Brady try the Kodak Bop, a dance movement descending that James White after a touchdown had performed.
"He is a very down-to-earth guy, easy to talk to," said the 24-year-old defender Deatrich Wise Jr. "That makes him so sympathetic and sympathetic in the team, how he builds team chemistry with everyone in the team, just talking, interacting alone, and everyone knows who he is, and he knows who he is. he distances himself from everyone. & # 39;
"I just play the role that I can give the person and what I think they need at the moment," said Brady. "It can be a rookie, it can be a veteran."
The value in those connections can not be measured, but is undoubtedly part of the success of the Patriots. Brady has more insight into football than perhaps an active player. It would mean little if he could not connect well enough with teammates to pass it on.
That connection may be more important for Brady's youngest teammates than at any point in his career. Megan Gerhardt, a professor at the University of Miami who specializes in leadership and generational differences in the workplace, said that this generation thrives on interaction and relatibility.
"Someone who is willing to build a relationship and get in touch with them and get in touch with them has a much better chance of passing on that experience and wisdom than someone who would not have that relationship "Gerhardt said. "That means much more for millennials than for previous generations."
Value of different perspectives
Vince Carter is one of the few active professional athletes in Brady's position, an island of middle age in a sea of young people. Carter will be 42 this month, making him 11 years older than his oldest teammate from Atlanta Hawk, Jeremy Lin, and a few months younger than his coach, Lloyd Pierce. Rookies Trae Young and Kevin Huerter were not born yet when Carter was drafted. In a game this season, Carter told 24-year-old teammate DeAndre & Bembry what he planned to do after picking up a post-pass. & # 39; Oh, I know, & # 39; said Bembry to Carter. Bembry explained that he had studied Carter on YouTube as a child.
When asked how this generation differed from the previous one, Carter laughed. "It's so many things," Carter said. "It is difficult to choose one." He assumed an increased sensitivity, which Carter had ascribed to social media. He has been conscious to bridge the generation gap. The Hawks have team dinners where mobile phones are not allowed to promote a conversation. Carter tells stories from his first seasons in the competition.
"You talk about the typical basketball things, and you actually go from there," Carter said after a shoot-around this month. "Just take the time to find out what they stand for, you go from there, we're so much together, and we spend so much time together, there are talks about everything, helping you bridge the gap."
Carter and Brady share a talent for relationships with many younger, lesser known teammates. Teammates say that Brady likes to hear their perspectives, which is crucial to bridge the age gap. Bonnie Hagemann is the author of Decades of Difference & # 39 ;, a book about age differences in the workplace. She said her first advice to Brady would be to not meet his younger teammates as having every answer. This may be difficult for Brady, because he is likely to do so. But that attitude makes teammates more receptive to his advice.
"If you show your openness to learn with them, it is very likely that they show their openness to learn from you," Hagemann said.
Age in the workplace, said Hagemann, must be seen as a form of diversity. Different ages can mean different perspectives. The best companies or organizations are flourishing on them. Gerhart, the Miami professor, developed the idea of 'Gentelligence & # 39 ;, in which the importance of generational differences in a workplace is emphasized.
"The best organizations and the most successful – in this case, that team – see them as an opportunity rather than a threat," Gerhardt said. "That as a strategy, whether on a field or in a company, is much rarer than we expected."
Andrew Knight, a business professor and researcher from the University of Washington, said that sports teams are attractive to academics who want to study age diversity in the workplace because so much data is so easily available. But a cross-section of those studies, he said, shows only weak links. They do not show whether any form of diversity – age, ethnicity, gender – is important. Instead, Knight said, the best indicator is how an organization is set up to address potential differences, or to turn them into a joint force.
"To help explain when it's right and when it's bad, what the structure or system is – or what a leader looks like – helps explain when diversity can be useful and when diversity can be a disadvantage," Knight said. .
Take a look at the leader of the patriots. Coach Bill Belichick demands and creates a culture of discipline. He has created a structure, Knight noted, who would remove the potential for an age difference to obstruct the locker room. For him, the age of Brady is just another factor that is not related to an urgent task, so it is a factor that must be dismissed.
"I think if you step on the pitch, football is football," Belichick said. "It's all the same, if you call the piece, I do not think anyone cares about how old someone is, everyone has a job, a job to do."
"That system leads people to march to the same drum," Knight said. "It aligns with something that they have in common."
That extreme camaraderie is perhaps the most crucial difference between a football dressing room and a typical workplace. Players spend hours together depending on each other for their livelihoods, work under the same physical strain and fear for coaches who shout at them.
"I've always said, it's unfortunate that the rest of America could not be in an NFL changing room for a year because I think many problems would be solved," said Hoyer. "You do not always get along with people, you will not always have the same views, you will not always be the same religion, the same race, all those things, the only thing we have is that we have this common goal. put it all at stake for each other, and if you have that relationship, you can understand people much better. & # 39;
Brady has done his best to understand his teammates, even though they are now of a different generation. Because he helped them understand the game, they also helped him.
We all know that he is much older than everyone in the changing room, & # 39; Dorsett said. "But we do what we can to keep him young."
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