Two great talents, two big hearts pass away

Rightfully so, the passing of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a huge loss for our country. Her diminutive stature belied the large intellect and courage to fight battles, first for herself, and then for women and the disenfranchised.

There are several stories whose theme is around the only woman in the room, be it the first female rocket scientist, Mary Sherman Morgan, or the first black female NASA mathematician, Katherine G. Johnson. Ginsburg was often one of only a scant few women in the room, be it Harvard or Columbia law schools or when she first joined the Supreme Court following Sandra Day O’Connor. Being told you do not belong, either directly or implicitly, requires a courageous heart.

Ginsburg was unable to get a job with a law firm since she was a female and a mother. Her husband, Marty was quickly able to gain employment as a tax attorney, but his very learned wife could not. So, she taught law. So, when she finally tried an appellate case regarding gender discrimination, very few knew the constitutional law as well as she. She knew the documented discrimination that existed in the law and what had to be changed. And, her track record on gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court was excellent, losing only one case. The movie “On the basis of sex,” starring Felicity Jones, is an excellent drama telling her story.

Yesterday, another person passed away, who will not be as known to non-football fans, but his supreme talent was only exceeded by his heart. His name was Gale Sayers and for seven years, was one of the most exciting football players to watch as his ability to stop, start, change direction and run kept defenses at bay. He was the youngest player to be inducted in the NFL Hall of Fame at the time. Yet, his heart may be what people will remember most.

When he joined the Chicago Bears in the mid-1960s, the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act had only recently been passed. The African-American Sayers befriended a white ball player named Brian Piccolo. They became friends, teasing each other often while competing for the same position. They both made the team and were roommates on the road.

But, the story unfolds later that Piccolo gets cancer and is dying. Sayers and his wife were by the Piccolos’ side the whole way. When Sayers was given an award for a courageous comeback after an injury, in his speech, he told the audience of the courage of his friend Brian Piccolo. He said “I love Brian Piccolo. And, I hope you will love him, too.” He then asked for their prayers for God to love Brian as well.

The story is captured in the excellent movie “Brian’s Song,” starring James Caan and Billy Dee Williams. I wrote a post a while back which I will link to below, which said “Brian’s Song” was the first movie where a man was allowed to openly cry. Truth be told, I am tearing up as a type this.

Let’s remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gale Sayers. Both are national treasures

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/brians-song-the-first-movie-where-men-could-watch-and-cry/

Sports movies whose lessons echo

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. Bot 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.

– 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.

 

 

 

Brian’s Song – the first movie where men could watch and cry

The other day I came across an old movie called “Brian’s Song” that I had not seen in a great while. Rarely, was a made for TV movie from that era (1971) met with such accolades, attributable to its compelling story. Spoiler alert – It was also the first movie where men who watched were allowed to cry. The story is about the friendship between two football players, Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers, who both joined the Chicago Bears professional football at the same time. In the movie, James Caan plays Piccolo, while Billy Dee Williams plays Sayers.

They both were star college running backs and competed for the same position on the team. Sayers would go onto be one of the most gifted players in the NFL, whose career would be cut short by injuries. Piccolo knew he had his work cut out for him, but he also saw a key part of his work to push Sayers to make him better. These rivals, from different races and backgrounds, would room together and become the kind of friends we all would hope to have. They worked and played together. They teased each other and played practical jokes on each other.

Piccolo would tell Sayers the coach had a deaf ear on one side, so it was important to be on his good ear side, which was all untrue. When Sayers kept hopping around to stay on the good side, the coach said “Sayers, what are you doing?” Sayers would return the favor by slipping mashed potatoes into Piccolo’s chair while he was required to sing his college fight song. The humor is as much a part of the relationship as the competition and kinship.They both made the team and the coach changed Piccolo’s position, so both could start together in the backfield.

The reason for the story goes beyond the friendship, though, as Piccolo started losing weight and kept running out of steam. It turned out he had cancer. He would go on to battle it courageously, but would eventually lose the fight. Sayers, would be by his side and spoke on his behalf at the behest of Piccolo’s wife. The story received additional notoriety when Sayers was given an award for coming back “courageously” from an injury. During his acceptance speech, Sayers said the award belongs to Brian Piccolo, who showed him what courage was all about. He would go onto say, “I love Brian Piccolo.”

Even knowing the ending does not detract from the powerful story. It is not unlike the movie “La Bamba” where you know Ritchie Valens will go down in the plane. The movie is still excellent. It is also leveraged tremendously by a very poignant piano theme song, that gives me chills every time I hear it.

If you have never seen the movie, please check it out. If you have, I would love to hear your thoughts and reflections. Below is a link to various clips.

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=brian’s+song&qpvt=brian%27s+song&FORM=VDRE