Sports movies that echo real life lessons (a reprise)

Last month, I highlighted a sports movie that made even men cry called “Brian’s Song.”  The movie was about friendship between men of different backgrounds who were competing for the same job on a football team. So, the movie inspired me to note a few other sports movies, that echo longer, due to the story and/ or circumstances. There are many sports movies that can easily be forgotten, so those that are not have a reason for lasting in our memories.

To me, the most profound sports movie is called “Invictus” which chronicles the greatness of Nelson Mandela using the example of the national rugby team. Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon star in the movie directed by Clint Eastwood. Mandela would not let the Springbok team favored by white South Africans lose its support and galvanized a whole country behind it as it hosted and won the world championship. The team was a metaphor for inclusion and showed why Mandela was able to bring a fractured country together. Mohammed Morsi should have taken notes when he took over Egypt and he may still have a job.

“42” about Jackie Robinson becoming the first African-American major league baseball player is of the same ilk. The story is far more than about baseball, as Robinson (played by Chadwick Boseman) and Dodger owner Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford), showed a huge amount of courage to break the color barrier years before the Civil Rights Act. Both received death threats, but Robinson had to face so many obstacles, hatred and abuse by racists, fans, players and even teammates and do so, without responding with anger. Many people would not be up to this challenge and, at some point, would have reacted. By example, he helped pave the way for others.

A movie some might be surprised is on this short list is “Bull Durham.” The reason I picked this one is it captures the camaraderie of teams quite well and shows the not so glamorous side of baseball in the minor leagues. But, the movie is about an old player and unique woman mentoring a young talented pitcher with a “million dollar arm and a five cents head.” Kevin Costner plays the veteran catcher, while Susan Sarandon plays a unique and astute baseball fan. Ironically, Tim Robbins, who becomes her husband in real life, plays Nuke Laloosh, the pitcher who needs seasoning. It also provides advice for that would resonate in the non-baseball world.  Here a few:

– Strikeouts are fascist. Throw more ground balls, they are more democratic.

– Don’t mess with a streak. If you think you are on a streak because of….then you are.

– I am not interested in anyone who is interested in that boy.

– Don’t think, just throw.

But, one you may not have seen is a worth the watch – “Bang the Drum Slowly” which is similar to “Brian’s Song,” but about baseball. It stars Michael Moriarty as a pitcher who will not play unless his catcher played by Robert De Niro can play. The catcher has cancer, so this will be his final season, a secret only Moriarty knows.

There are several others that could have been highlighted. “Hoosiers” with Gene Hackman as the imperfect coach of a high school Indiana basketball team that beats all odds to win, is excellent. “Field of Dreams” is also excellent where Costner creates a baseball diamond in his corn field and has the best game of catch at the end. “Seabiscuit” and “Phar Lap” are two movies about race horses and people who should not win, but do while overcoming great adversity. The latter is an Australian movie and is worth the watch. “The Greatest Game Ever Played” about a teenage golfer, Francis Ouimet, who beat three of the best golfers in the world is a little cheesy, but excellent. “The Lou Gehrig Story” is cheesy at times, but with Gary Cooper playing Gehrig, it is worth it. And, even “Rocky” is a classic, although they should have stopped at one.

Let me know your favorites. I know I have left off some good ones,but would love to hear your thoughts.


24 thoughts on “Sports movies that echo real life lessons (a reprise)

  1. Note to Readers: A fairly recent movie based on a true sports story is called “Twelve Mighty Orphans” starring Luke Wilson, Vinessa Shaw, Robert Duvall and Martin Sheen. It shows the trials and challenges for a school of orphans to get a chance to compete in football against bigger and better players during the depression. A 2016 movie called “Race” about the Olympic track star Jesse Owens starring Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Eli Goree, Shanice Banton is excellent storytelling of the civil rights struggles of Owens against both Nazis and white America. The fact Owens had to ride up to a celebratory dinner for him in a freight elevator is telling.

  2. Million Dollar Baby – I can’t even type that without tearing up.
    -Women are tougher than anyone gives them credit for.
    -Life is not always filled with easy answers sometimes there’s moral ambiguities that only make sense when you’re in the middle of them (the ending).

  3. Since I’m not a sports fan, I don’t watch many sports-related movies, but admittedly I did watch and love “42” and “The Lou Gehrig Story”. I might check out a few of your other recommendations one of these days!

    • Thanks Jill. Good choices. Almost all good sports movies focus less on the sport and more on the relationships. “Brian’s Song” is more about friendship and courage than football.

    • Janis, I wish I mentioned “A League of their own.” “Moneyball” is good two, but the first one has a great nostalgic story. The scenes with the two sisters at the end of the big game and at the Hall of Fame are moving. Thanks, Keith

    • Linda, “Invictus” should be seen by every elected leader, especially here in the US. Mandela knew he had to galvanize a nation, and the rugby team gave him the best vehicle. Leaders who punish the opposition are not leaders – they are bullies. Keith

  4. Note to Readers: A few additional movies which are worthy of mention include, but are not limited to: “Million Dollar Baby,” “Major League,” “The Express,” “A League of their Own,” “Chariots of Fire,” “Glory Road,” and “The Battle of the Sexes.”

    • Note to Readers: “Chariots of Fire” is probably the most acclaimed sports movie, but more than likely due to the steadfast beliefs of the principal British competitors. The antagonist in the movie was the pompous upper class who kept telling these men that is not the way we do things. Trying to get one runner to break with his piety to run on Sunday was met with appropriate defiance by the runner. The other athletes admired the two British runners for standing their ground.

  5. Boxing movies, like courtroom scenes, are easy cinema and there are a bunch of good ones. I love Rocky too. – or should I say Rocky One? However, I’m still waiting for the great american baseball movie.

    • Bumba, agreed on “Rocky.” You also reminded me of “Raging Bull,” a good boxing movie. The best baseball movie might be Ken Burns’ documentary series on baseball. Keith

      • The Natural had Robert Redford, but still fell short. Recommendation: Philip Roth’s Great American Novel is about baseball narrated by a sportswriter called Word Smith.

      • Agreed on “The Natural.” I have not seen the other one you suggest, so I will need to check it out. The Natural would have been much better if they left out the cheesy parts. Plus, I am amazed the manager would not even let the Redford bat in practice to see what he had in a player. Keith

  6. Invictus is one of our favourites. Thoughtful and uplifting, packed full of memorable scenes; such as when an Afrikaner hugs one of Mandela’s long time bodyguards, the expression on the latter’s face is priceless.
    Almost the ultimate feel-good movie.

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