Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis flew into Tampa last month for a run-of-the-mill bill signing ceremony and to answer questions about the state’s worsening coronavirus crisis. He was in and out of the public view in about an hour.
But he didn’t leave town right away. His office confirmed as much in the days after the event but wouldn’t say where he disappeared to. His schedule gave no clues.
After the bill signing, Florida Department of Law Enforcement vehicles, like the kind that transport the governor, were spotted on Davis Islands, near the home of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady.
Is that where DeSantis ended up the evening of June 25? Asked about it Saturday, DeSantis wouldn’t divulge.
“All I can say is I’m looking forward to the Bucs season,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Bradenton. “I was a fan of Tampa Bay, growing up in Pinellas County, when they had the orange uniforms, you would go to a game, they’d be playing the Bears and there would be more Bears fans than Bucs fans.”
“It’s been frustrating, a little bit, they’ve had talent. But I think if one man is going to light it up, it’s going to be Tom.”
DeSantis declined to respond to follow-ups, saying only: “I look forward to watching him play.”
At the time of DeSantis’ June visit, Hillsborough County was in the middle of its steepest incline in new coronavirus cases since the state reopened, and the positivity rate of those cases was soaring to alarming levels. The severity of the problem has intensified in the weeks after, with total coronavirus hospitalizations hitting record levels Friday.
DeSantis arrived at Cristo Rey Tampa Salesian High School for his event shortly after 3 p.m. Following brief remarks, he took some pictures, signed the bill, fielded a handful of questions and hopped into a black SUV.
His plane didn’t leave Tampa for Tallahassee until after 8 p.m., spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré confirmed last month. DeSantis’ daily travel schedule does not list additional events, though it’s not uncommon these days for the governor to spend hours of his day unaccounted for.
For two weeks, DeSantis’ office has repeatedly declined to answer questions about his whereabouts during the taxpayer-funded travel. Ferré said she couldn’t comment on what the governor did in his personal time and was unaware of how he spent the four hours between the event and his flight back to the state capital.
Ferré accompanied DeSantis on the trip to Tampa and flew back with him, but said she was “doing different things during that time.”
“I was not involved,” Ferré said.
Brady’s publicist did not respond to an email requesting comment.
DeSantis has rolled out the red carpet for athletes and sports leagues looking to start up after the pandemic. In May, he gave the green light for Brady, former quarterback Peyton Manning and golf superstars Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to host a charity golf event in Hobe Sound.
Brady and DeSantis, two former college athletes, share some commonalities, including an affinity for golf and a friendship with President Donald Trump. And they’re both under a microscope for how they have navigated the ongoing public health crisis.
DeSantis has struggled to contain fears over the sharp rise in coronavirus cases in recent weeks. Florida has become ground zero for the country’s battle against the disease.
Brady, meanwhile, has flouted the recommendations of the National Football League Players Association by organizing practices with teammates at Berkeley Preparatory School. He raised eyebrows for posting to his Instagram account “Only thing we have to fear, is fear itself” after one such workout, which came after news that two Buccaneers players and a trainer had tested positive for COVID 19.
This week, it came out that Brady’s personal brand was approved for a $350,000 to $1 million federal loan intended for businesses hurt by the coronavirus shutdowns.
DeSantis, a product of Dunedin and a well-know sports buff, has gushed over the future Hall of Fame signal-caller since the splash signing. When the deadly virus first began spreading throughout Florida communities in March, DeSantis at a news conference called the Brady signing “the biggest news.”
“I’m really pleased,” DeSantis said. “I’ve been a Bucs fan my whole life. I think they have a chance to compete for the Super Bowl. That seems like such a distant thing to grab on to right now because we’re in this day-to-day fight.”
He mentioned Brady again during a visit to Tampa General Hospital in April. Hillsborough has one of the state’s fastest-growing outbreaks and the Bucs’ home, Raymond James Stadium, is adding more capacity for COVID-19 tests amid surging demand.
“If we can get far enough along,” DeSantis said in April, “we can watch the new quarterback of the Bucs play.”