For many sports fans, watching their favorite team or player can be akin to a religious experience. Sports and the communities spawned from them affect culture and society, and a new series from AUDIENCE®, Religion Of Sports, examines our deep connection to the game. Who better to tell these stories, than the athletes and fanatics at the heart of it? Queue New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady, Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Strahan, and filmmaker Gotham Chopra who served as co-creators of this original sports documentary series. We caught up with Tom Brady to talk all things sports, and you may be surprised to learn about some of his passions outside of football. Check out our exclusive interview below, and be sure to watch the season premiere of Religion of Sports tonight at 8/7c on AUDIENCE®.
As a child you loved quintessentially American sports like baseball and football. Was there an internationally-loved sport that you longed to try as a kid? Perhaps something unusual that Americans don’t usually engage in?
I used to play a lot of handball in gym class actually. I always really enjoyed it, and I think it’s a pretty underrated sport. The agility, balance, and hand-eye coordination required to perform at an elite level in handball is incredible.
Growing up I was always a fan of soccer as well, but my son has really gotten me into it during the past few years. I watch the Premiere League and La Liga games from time to time, and I watched a lot of the World Cup. It always amazes me what those guys are able to do and the intensity that fans bring to the game. There’s so much history with the team and the community in so many of these places. The cultural history surrounding the teams and the rivalries in places like Spain (FC Barcelona v Real Madrid) or the Premier League or South America are so longstanding and emotional for so many people. It’s much bigger than sports there!
I love how the U.S. has become more competitive in the past decade or so as well—it’s fun to watch. My son and his friends love the sport so much, a lot like I loved baseball and football growing up. It’s not nearly as ingrained in the culture as it is in a lot of places around the world yet, but you can tell it’s still a big part of life in the U.S. and it’s growing every year.
Some of the sporting phenomenons the show will be exploring are NASCAR, The Calgary Stampede and UFC/mixed martial arts. What do you think viewers are going to be most surprised by when diving into these niche worlds?
I was blown away by the passion involved in these “niche” sports. They are just as intense, if not more, than the more mainstream sports most fans think of first. I think because most of us see the NFL, NBA, MLB and big time college sports so much in the media, we sometimes forget how powerful sports are at the community level—at the local dirt track in the South or minor league ballparks across the country or frozen ponds and tiny hockey rinks where kids skate and play 24/7. These are the places where playing the game is sort of like an act of faith… For one, the entrance fees are lower—you can bring your whole family and the gap between the fans and the athletes is much smaller. You can really touch and feel the sport.
Our series dives deep into the grittier side of sports, where athletes and fans really live and die by it. With UFC in particular, I became a fan of the sport in high school, and my cousin Sean Shelby has been involved in the UFC for a long time. Seeing it in person really changed how much appreciation I have for the raw intensity of the sport, and the discipline and focus of the fighters. I think the series captures this essence of the sport really well, particularly in the episode on Cat Zingano.
A big part of fandom, and of course actually playing the game revolves around rituals and superstitions. What are some of the most interesting pre-show rituals or superstitions you’ve seen players engage in?
I’d say a lot of the rituals I’ve seen typically center around certain foods, gear, or music. I’ve seen some shirts that guys would wear under their pads that had been worn so long they were basically reduced to a taped up rag. A more universal one seems to be the music. Just about everyone has a playlist they listen to almost religiously to get them ready for a game.
As for myself, I don’t really get too much into superstitions, but I definitely have rituals with what I listen to and what I do before a game. I find it helpful to get as relaxed as I can and close my eyes leading up to game time, and I’ll often even fall asleep until it’s time to hit the field. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve done everything I can that week to prepare myself for the game and my main goal for those 90 minutes or so is to put myself in the most flexible, calm head space possible so I can be ready for anything when it’s time to play.