Monday, April 09, 2012

"Undefeated": the value of team contact sports (football)

Undefeated”, a docudrama from directors Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin, is more than another youth sports movie.  This is a film about who really takes responsibility for disadvantaged kids.

In Memphis, TN, the Manassas Tigers (from Manassas High School) haven’t won a football game in a number of years.  Coach Bill Courtney takes the challenge, and builds a team that goes 9-1 in a season and makes the playoffs

But his technique is to tell kids that they have to find something higher than themselves to fight for.  Most of the players don’t have their original fathers at home.  According to Courtney, the kids take this as meaning they weren’t valuable enough to matter.  “You didn’t ask to be born, and life isn’t fair” he says to them. But the only answer is to believe that the team is more important than they are.  (Ask this of Troy McClain a few years ago on “The Apprentice”.)

Personally, my problem was different. I was raised in a stable family with dependable economics.  I couldn’t “compete” as a boy in doing the “manly things” (like contact sports), so I wanted to go off in my own direction (like academics and music).  Things came full circle as I wound up with family responsibility that I didn’t “choose”.  When is it morally defendable for people to insist on following their own goals?

Courtney keeps manipulating them, with what sounds like a bit of sales double-talk. At one point, a player complains that he thinks that another player is gay (based on minimal physical affection), and Courtney shoots the accusation down.  But the conversation helps explain "homophobia" in disadvantaged males. 

The players struggle with academics, and in a couple cases, injuries.  The end result can be no future.  Courtney gets them all through that.

There's a scene where one of the players (was it "Money" or "OC"?) is tutored by an attractive young adult male in mathematics in a high income home, a novelty for the player.  I thought, should I have become such a tutor after I "retired"?  But I had my own issues.  As a "non-competitive" person, I didn't like the idea of disadvantaged youth looking to me personally as a role model, when I hadn't had my own family. That alone was a real surprise to me. 

Courtney says that he has spent more attention on the team, counseling the individual players, than on his own four kids.  That needs to change. 

The final playoff game is a cliffhanger.  I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to admit that the Tigers lose at home, 28-27.  Blocked extra points can matter.

A film about football, and making the moral case that the team contact sport builds character, is perhaps controversial in a time when medicine is concerned about the effects of repeated concussions and injuries (and the “deliberate maiming” scandal in the NFL).

I saw the film at the West End Cinema in Washington DC before a small Easter Sunday night audience.

The film comes from Spitfire Pictures and The Weinstein Company.

The official site is here

Picture: Redskins Park, Prince Georges County, MD

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