jeff bradley grew up in New Jersey, where his favorite sport was whatever was in the season.
He played football, ice hockey, basketball and baseball. His older brothers also loved sports. Scott — an All-State high school quarterback — eventually focused on baseball. After a nine-year major league career as a catcher, he is now in his 25th season as Princeton University’s head coach.
Bob Bradley committed to football. The longtime USA men’s national team coach (2006-2011) and MLS coach – who has also had an unparalleled coaching career abroad – is still in the game. He finishes his freshman year at Toronto FC, where another Bradley – Bob’s son Michael – Stars. Jeff also stayed in the sport. But he went a different way. He was a sportswriter for the New York Daily News, Newark Star-Ledger, ESPN The Magazine, and Sports Illustrated. He has spent the last seven years as Director of Communications at Toronto FC.
Soon the youngest Bradley brother will be the first to retire. He spoke to Soccer America about his more than three decades in the sport. Actually, it’s more like four decades. By the time he was 13, Bradley was covering high school sports for local newspapers. He couldn’t type, so his mother did the work. But he was getting $2 a game and he was hooked.
Bob, Jeff, and Michael Bradley.
Bradley played baseball at the University of North Carolina for two years while receiving a great education at their journalism school (and working for the school’s sports information department).
His idol was Peter Gambons, the Boston Globe baseball writer (and another UNC alumnus). Bradley thought his report writing journey would begin at the Associated Press’ Raleigh bureau. But he mostly took dictations and was “miserable”.
At 23, Harvard hired him as assistant sports information director. Bradley worked with the Crimson men’s soccer team, to whom he lost in 1987 Eric Wynalda‘s San Diego State University on penalties in the NCAA Division I semifinals. (Bradley earned an NCAA championship ring when Harvard won the men’s national hockey title in 1989.)
He befriended Gammons, who bought out-of-town newspapers in Harvard Square. The sportswriter helped Bradley get a job at Sports Illustrated.
In 1992, the Daily News offered Bradley a job as the Yankees’ beat reporter. He had never worked a day, but quickly found the rhythm. It was a dream job – but demanding. He was on the road up to 200 days a year. When his wife became pregnant, Bradley asked Charlie Stillitano if there was any work with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars.
There was. Bradley became the club’s first public relations director. The early days of MLS were “the wild west,” he says.
It was frustrating too. The soccer team has been largely ignored in New York’s cluttered sports media landscape. Despite being named MLS PR Manager of the Year in 1997, Bradley longed to return to journalism.
With ESPN The Magazine he fulfilled this wish. He spent 10 fruitful years as senior writer, covering a wide range of sports while focusing on football. He wanted to cover it “aggressively” like gammons did in baseball. Bradley has published stories, featured athletes, championed the US women’s national team, covered lesser-known events like the Africa Cup of Nations, and helped ESPN – the magazine and network – become the leader in football coverage. But in 2006, when Bob Bradley was named USMNT head coach, Jeff stepped away from that punch. “I have no regrets,” he says. “Look what happened Chris Cuomo.” (The CNN reporter was criticized for reporting on his brother, the former governor of New York Andrew Cuomo.)
“I wanted to cheer for Bob’s team. Then Michael came along. It would have been awkward standing in the dressing room.” ESPN has continued to increase its investment in football, but Jeff Bradley had moved on to other sports. (He covered the 2010 World Cup where he was embedded with the Ghana team.)
He joined Newark Star-Ledger and has spent the last seven years with Toronto. Commuting from his home on the New Jersey shore is tough, but being back in football is rewarding. He has taken on new roles such as advising players on how to deal with the media.
He has witnessed the rise of social media. While Bradley once requested coverage of the MetroStars, he’s now seeing an explosion of interest in Toronto FC on platforms like Twitter.
It’s a double-edged sword. “There is no accountability,” he says of fans who post regularly and often pillory players and coaches. “They write about tactics without speaking to the coach or going to a training session. If I wrote something critical, I had to prove it. Then I went into the clubhouse and saw 25 copies of the newspaper scattered around.
“Today, many people write with emotion and anger. And a lot of people just write for clicks.”
In 2021, Bob Bradley was signed as Toronto FC manager. Not wanting anyone to mistake the club for a “family business”, Jeff agreed to stay for a year. This year is now over. He looks forward to new projects on his own terms and time frame. Half a century after playing the sport that had season, a new season is dawning for Jeff Bradley.