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New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is a man of few words. Asked about other topics in press conferences before Sunday night’s matchup with the Seattle Seahawks, he replied tersely, “Seattle.”

Belichick was put on the spot because of a rare moment in which he chose to be more expansive. Before Tuesday’s presidential election, Donald Trump read an effusive letter he received from the coach.

“You have proved to be the ultimate competitor and fighter,” Belichick is said to have written to Trump. “Your leadership is amazing!!”

The text sounds so much more like Trump than Belichick that I was skeptical. Belichick also is reluctant to do anything that could pose a distraction to the team. But it turns out Belichick did write Trump a supportive letter.

“I think anybody that has spent more than five minutes with me knows I’m not a political person,” Belichick told reporters. “My comments are not politically motivated — [they are motivated by] friendship and loyalty to Donald.”

Trump also claimed Patriots quarterback Tom Brady voted for him. Brady’s wife protested on social media that the family didn’t support the Republican nominee and the four-time Super Bowl winner said sheepishly, “I talked to my wife and she said I can’t talk about politics anymore. So I think that’s a good decision, made for our family.”

Much has been written about what this means for sports figures speaking out on controversial political topics. But it also says a lot about what has happened to Trump’s brand on his way from celebrity businessman to president-elect.

Not long ago, it would have been totally uncontroversial for Belichick and Brady to hobnob with Trump, who regularly appeared in commercials and made cameo appearances in sitcoms like “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” But in some quarters, Trump has now become toxic.

Some of that just has to do with getting involved in politics in a country that is deeply divided along partisan lines. Four out of the last five presidential elections were close and Tuesday was no exception.

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But Trump has also become a racially divisive figure, beyond what is normal even in our polarized political era. Two leaders in a sport where most of the players are African American now have to be more reluctant to associate with him.

Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett wrote an emotional public letter to his daughter in the wake of Trump’s election, expressing the pain and bewilderment his upset victory caused many Americans.

This has major implications for how Trump would govern the country. Can he heal the divisions of the campaign and calm the protests in the streets? Can he reclaim some part of the more diverse following he enjoyed as a reality TV star known primarily for wealth and glamor, not walls and politics? Will professional athletes speaking out about his impending presidency contribute to the politicization of everything, causing Trump fatigue even among his own voters?

Trump has time to answer these questions. But even as he defeated Hillary Clinton and won in places Republicans have been struggling to win since the Reagan years, there are reminders that he is a much more controversial figure than he has ever been.

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