Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On Sports Movies and Winning

Great movie or the Greatest Movie?

by Ben Howard

I’m a sucker for sports movies. This probably isn’t that shocking since I’m a guy who enjoys sports and has an overly romanticized view about the power of communal bonding. Then again, who doesn’t love Remember the Titans and Rudy and Hoosiers*? These are the kinds of movies that inspire you to live a better life. They inspire you to get together your rag-tag bunch of friends and overcome some obstacles like the overachievers you secretly are on the inside despite your past actions which clearly label you as a lazy underachiever. In a word: They’re awesome!

*Okay, so I do have one friend who didn’t like Hoosiers. We watched the first twenty minutes or so and she was bored and made me turn it off. It’s been months and I still don’t know if I’ve forgiven her. I mean, IT’S HOOSIERS! WHO DOESN’T LIKE HOOSIERS?!? I’m so confused. I’m going to go have a cry and watch Gene Hackman confront his past.

Last night, as I stumbled around Netflix, as I am wont to do late in the evening, I discovered a film I’d never heard of before. It’s called The Winning Season and stars Sam Rockwell (he’s been in a bunch of movies and you think he was in Fight Club, but he wasn’t), Emma Roberts (niece of Julia Roberts), and Mara Rooney (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Mark Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend in the Social Network). How could I say no?

The movie centers around a high school basketball team and before you start joking about girls playing basketball, please be aware that your fair author is quite the aficionado of women’s basketball. Of course, by “aficionado” I mean I watched a ton of games in college because I had some friends on the team, have filled out an NCAA Bracket for the Women’s Tournament two years running and have an awareness that the WNBA exists.

Not Ed Norton
Anyways, the movie is pretty solid indie-comedy/sports movie fare and I’d actually recommend that you watch it. It tries to do a little too much (subplots include racism, coming to terms with one’s sexuality, and statutory rape), but it’s ultimately a really wonderful movie about overcoming odds, coming together, putting the needs of the group above the individual, and how that ultimately makes the individual better too.

These are all great lessons to learn and wonderful things to discuss even though the film does get a little heavy-handed (a flashing “This Scene Has Moral Implications” icon would have been less obvious), but it’s not the biggest thing I pulled from the movie.

My favorite thing about the movie is that the team wasn’t good, they were average. Even after their great run of success I think they finish the season with 13 wins and 12 losses. They’re pretty okay.

You see, most sports movies go for the grandiose; the team goes from worst to first, utter chaos to champions, but not this movie. The team loses in the sectionals. They don’t even play teams from outside of their immediate area.

I love this! Too often we tell stories where the end has to be exaggerated and big. The team has to become the best team in the country or the state, as if all they’ve learned would be for naught if they don’t win at the end. But that just isn’t true.

Go Normal!
There are lessons to be learned and inspirational stories to be told from everywhere, not just the cream of the crop. If we focus our eyes only on the extraordinary we will all too often forget the resounding brilliance and excellence that can be found in the average.

I’ve talked about similar ideas before, but I still think it’s important. Sometimes great things occur in massive explosions of greatness and sometimes they come gradually in small, seemingly average and typical circumstances. One is not better than the other. The team that learns and grows together while going 13 and 12 is just as successful as the one who learns and grows together while going 25 and 0.
I think about this a lot when it comes to churches and the way pastors are viewed as successes or failures based on either the attendance or the number of conversions. When we make a statistic our indicator of success or failure we miss the point of our existence. The point is not to win, it’s to be more fully human, to become who we are called to be. The job of a preacher/pastor/priest is not to defeat the church next door by getting more people into worship, but to facilitate a community seeking to become more human and simultaneously more divine.

When the buzzer sounds and the game is played and everyone moves on with their lives, “winning” has nothing to do with who won.


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1 comment:

  1. Great post, Ben. I've been spending quite a bit of time in this world of late, and think you make some great points. A friend suggested the following comparison that I think gets at what you are talking about here. Compare Friday Night Lights with the baptized version Facing the Giants. While I haven't had time to really process all that is going on in these two sports movie/tv shows, your above points are made glaring. In Facing the Giants, winning is glamorized and the end is wrapped up along the sanitized journey. Friday Night Lights, however, is more in-your-face reality. It acknowledges the good sports has to offer particularly in winning, but doesn't claim that this realization comes "sanitized." It is through the muck of sin and depravity that sports can offer visions of redemptive hope.