Fans treat game day almost like a religious service in this neck of the woods, and few people know that better than Gotham Chopra.
The Boston-born filmmaker and son of Deepak Chopra examines the spiritual impact of sports on athletes and society at large with his docuseries “Religion of Sports,” which returns for season two on Nov. 15. Alongside executive producers Tom Brady and Michael Strahan, Chopra is taking a deep dive into lesser-known corners of the sports world with the new season, highlighting top performers in arenas ranging from fencing to prison baseball.
“These are not sports where even the top athletes, the best, the people who are as good at their sport as LeBron James is at his, they’re not making millions of dollars,” Chopra tells Metro. “There’s an implicit [question of], ‘Well why do they do it?’ That’s an interesting thing to explore.”
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Aside from figuring out what makes these athletes tick, the series also looks at how sports can take on spiritual roles in the lives on fans. Chopra admits that the religious fervor of fans can sometimes lead to divisive moments, such as the recent controversy around the national anthem protests in the NFL.
Although some athletes have tried to use their platform to make broader statements about the criminal justice system, the message gets lost at times. Certain sectors of the fandom seem to take the protests as affronts to the ideals they feel are exemplified in their beloved pastime.
“We’ve woven these issues of patriotism, loyalty and everything into the NFL and that’s not unlike religion, where these issues of identity and even nationalism are stitched in,” Chopra says. “What are they actually protesting? They’re not protesting the lack of loyalty to the country, they’re protesting criminal justice. But the point is, it doesn’t really matter because once you get in it, reason – and that’s the same in religion – it sort of fades away.”
Chopra acknowledges that fandoms will often deify their favorite stars as well, something he knows all too well as a fan of Boston sports. While not every athlete can handle the pressure of being put on a pedestal, Chopra believes veterans like Brady and David Ortiz know how to keep themselves grounded despite the fame and fortune.
“There’s this part of them that exists in a cultural context of being the quarterback for the Patriots or Big Papi being the icon for the Red Sox,” Chopra says. “They do feel that weight of responsibility, and it’s addictive in it’s own way because they’re competitive.”
He adds, “Then there’s this part of them – you know what Tom is? A dad, a husband, a guy who’s just like everyone else.”