I never waste an opportunity to write about sports and religion when there is a natural connection.
That happens all the time. Sports and religion are often intertwined by our culture and society. My trip to Moscow last summer for soccer’s World Cup led me to do a feature on St. Basil’s Cathedral and how it had come to become one of the tournament’s biggest symbols alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
This takes us to this coming Sunday. With America preparing for another Super Bowl — and yet another appearance by quarterback Tom Brady — this great athlete (and his faith) are worth another look.
In Brady’s case, let’s just say it’s complicated.
It’s true that two weeks of Brady storylines since the conference championships didn’t do sportswriters a lot of good. Brady’s been here (nine Super Bowl appearances to be exact) and done that (in the form of five titles). The bigger story was the bad officiating in the NFC Championship Game, how the New Orleans Saints were wronged and the fallout that has ensued.
Super Bowl LIII festivities officially kicked off on Monday with Opening Night — previously known as Media Day — at the State Farm Arena. The media circus that has descended upon Atlanta for Sunday’s big game between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams means hundreds of hours of TV coverage and lots of articles and feature stories.
Lost in all the Brady quotes, news stories and features over the past week was any focus or mention of Brady’s faith. For any athlete who has won so much, religion can often play a central role. Is that the case here?
In a January 2015 piece, Deseret News writer Herb Scribner explored the very question of Brady’s spiritual life, piecing together what was known about his faith from past interviews and feature stories.
Considering how much Brady has won and how long he’s been playing (19 seasons and counting with no plans to retire), the fact that his faith has been written about so little says a lot about how journalism treats religion, especially in a game such as football that has always had such strong connections to faith. Look at Tim Tebow’s recent engagement and Tony Dungy’s mixing of analysis and religion, just to name two, with very strong bonds to Christianity and how it influenced their lives and the game.
Here’s what we do we know about Brady’s faith from past news coverage:
The Deseret News article was spurred by a long New York Times feature, which ran in the Sunday magazine. Written by Mark Leibovich, it touched on Brady’s faith. Leibovich, in describing Brady’s home, noted that there were Bibles everywhere. It’s worth noting that in 2009, Brady married model Gisele Bundchen in a small Catholic church in Santa Monica, Calif. Brady’s two children with her were also baptized in the Catholic church. Brady also has another child (with actress Bridget Moynihan), who was born after Brady and Moynihan broke up. As you would imagine, rumors were common.
In the feature, Leibovich also spotted menorahs in Brady’s apartment.
“We’re not Jewish,” Brady added. “But I think we’re into everything. … I don’t know what I believe. I think there’s a belief system, I’m just not sure what it is.”
Instead of his faith, the piece spends a lot of time on a man named Alex Guerrero. For those who don’t recall the controversy this caused at the time, Guerrero was described in the article as some sort of spiritual guru. This is how the feature detailed Brady’s relationship to him:
“While Guerrero is known as Brady’s “body coach,” that label significantly understates his exhaustive reach into Brady’s life. Guerrero is his spiritual guide, counselor, pal, nutrition adviser, trainer, massage therapist and family member. He is the godfather of Brady’s younger son, Ben. He accompanies Brady to almost every Patriots game, home and away, and stands on the sidelines. He works with Brady’s personal chef to put together optimally healthful menus; he plans Brady’s training schedule months in advance. Above all, during the football season he works on Brady seven days a week, usually twice a day.”
But let’s go to the beginning.
Brady was raised Roman Catholic in San Mateo, Calif., where he played high school football for the Catholic Junipero Serra High School. The all-boys school (could there be any Covington High School angle here?) is run by the Archdiocese of San Francisco. In a 60 Minutes interview conducted by Steve Kroft in 2015, Brady wasn’t afraid to thank God for his success.
More recently, Brady, along with owner Bob Kraft, are reported to be Trump supporters. That was a storyline that was much visited during the presidential election after a MAGA hat was spotted in his locker. That storyline came back this week after actor Daniel Radcliffe, of Harry Potter fame, took a shot at Brady for his choice of headgear. Again, Covington, anyone?
At the same time, Brady’s father, Tom Sr., was quoted in a 2008 Catholic News Service article talking about his own devout Catholic faith. This is how the piece discussed Brady’s father’s faith:
“Through the resources of our Catholic faith, there's been some degree of normalcy in our lives," Brady said. "Even though there's been a lot of pain in a lot of areas, there's been a tremendous amount of joy. That's what this journey is about. Actually, I think the journey could be summed up as living out the ordinary in these extraordinary times."
He described how he feels "love and strength" in religious ceremonies; how he has developed longtime friendships through the love of the sacraments; how he has attended a Wednesday prayer group since 1982; how he enjoyed a three-day Cursillo in the mid '70s; and how he integrates prayer into all his decisions.
Brady talked about times he and his wife went to church angry at each other but allowed the power of the Mass to "whisk away" their anger by the time of the sign of peace. "I can't go to church mad and not come out happy," he said.
With very Catholic Boston — in terms of culture, at the very least — the center of Patriots Nation, there’s a very good chance that a very big chunk of Brady fans are Roman Catholics. The two crossed paths when Brady’s father signed a petition in 2015 asking Pope Francis to seek the removal San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone.
The reason? The Boston Globe reported that Cordileone came under assault from liberal Catholics after he announced that teachers in archdiocesan-run schools would be required to sign a contract that states they “accept the Church’s teaching that all extra-marital sexual relationships are gravely evil and that these include adultery, masturbation, fornication, the viewing of pornography and homosexual relations.” In other words, before the recent Karen Pence situation before there was this situation.
Brady may be the kind who thanks — and even believes in — in a higher authority such as God. However, journalists have missed the chance to delve into this often overlooked, or poorly covered, storyline.
In a week where original Brady angles were slim given that he’s been to the Super Bowl before, this was another missed opportunity for sportswriters.