Jeff Bradley on a career in sports journalism and soccer media relations, and his athletic family

Jeff Bradley grew up in New Jersey, where his favorite sport was "whatever was in season.”

He played soccer, ice hockey, basketball and baseball. His older brothers loved sports too. Scott — an all-state high school quarterback — eventually concentrated 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 settled on soccer. The longtime United States men’s national team (2006–2011) and MLS coach — who's also had an unprecedented coaching run abroad  — is still in the game. He’s completing his first year at Toronto FC, where another Bradley — Bob’s son Michael — stars. Jeff stayed in sports too. But he took a different path. He was a sportswriter for the New York Daily News, Newark Star-Ledger, ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated. He’s spent the past seven years as Toronto FC’s director of communications.

Soon, the youngest Bradley brother becomes the first to retire. He spoke with Soccer America about his more than three decades in sports. Actually, it’s more like four decades. When he was 13 years old, Bradley covered high school sports for local newspapers. He couldn’t type, so his mother handled that chore. But he got $2 a game, and he was hooked.

Bob, Jeff and Michael Bradley.

Bradley played two years of baseball at the University of North Carolina, while getting a great education in their journalism school (and working for the school’s sports information department).

His idol was Pete Gammons, the Boston Globe baseball writer (and fellow UNC grad). Bradley thought his path to feature writing would begin at the Associated Press’s Raleigh office. But he mostly took dictation, and was “miserable.”

At 23, Harvard hired him as assistant sports information director. Bradley worked with the Crimson men’s soccer team, which in 1987 lost to Eric Wynalda’s San Diego State University on penalty kicks in the NCAA Division I semifinals. (Bradley earned an NCAA championship ring when Harvard won the 1989 men’s ice hockey national title.)

He became friendly with Gammons, who bought out-of-town newspapers in Harvard Square. The sportswriter helped Bradley get a job with Sports Illustrated.

In 1992, the Daily News offered Bradley a job as Yankees’ beat reporter. He’d never worked for a daily, but quickly picked up the rhythm. It was a dream job – but demanding. He spent up to 200 days a year on the road. 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 MLS days were “the wild west,” he says.

It was also frustrating. The soccer team was largely ignored in New York’s cluttered sports media landscape. Despite winning MLS’s 1997 PR Executive of the Year award, Bradley yearned to return to journalism.

With ESPN The Magazine, he got that wish. He spent 10 fruitful years as a senior writer, covering a wide range of sports, while zeroing in on soccer. He wanted to cover it “aggressively,” the way Gammons did with baseball. Bradley broke stories, profiled athletes, championed the U.S. women’s national team, covered lesser-known events like the Africa Cup of Nations, and helped ESPN – the magazine and the network – become a leader in soccer coverage. But in 2006, when Bob Bradley was named USMNT head coach, Jeff stepped away from that beat. “I have no regrets,” he says. “Look at what happened to Chris Cuomo.” (The CNN reporter was criticized for covering his brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.)

“I wanted to root for Bob’s team. Then Michael came along. It would have been awkward being in the locker room.” ESPN ramped up its investment in soccer even more, but Jeff Bradley had moved on to other sports. (He did cover the 2010 World Cup, where he was embedded with the Ghanaian team.)

He moved on to the Newark Star-Ledger, then spent the last seven years with Toronto. Commuting from his home on the New Jersey shore is tough, but being back in soccer is rewarding. He’s taken on new roles, like advising players how to deal with the media.

He’s witnessed the rise of social media. While Bradley once begged for coverage of the MetroStars, he now sees an explosion of interest in Toronto FC on platforms like Twitter.

It’s a double-edged sword. “There’s no accountability,” he says of fans who post regularly, often pillorying players and coaches. “They write about tactics without talking to the coach, or going to a training session. If I wrote something critical, I had to back it up. Then I’d walk into the clubhouse and see 25 copies of the paper, spread all around.

“These days, a lot of people write with emotion and anger. And a lot of people are writing just for clicks.”

In 2021 Bob Bradley was hired as Toronto FC’s coach. Jeff did not want anyone to think the club was a “family business,” but agreed to stay on for a year. That year is now up. He looks forward to new projects, on his own terms and time frame. Half a century after playing whatever sport was in season, a new season dawns for Jeff Bradley.

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications