The Bias of Hollywood, Sports Edition

Monica Roberts of TransGriot makes a salient historical point about NCAA Basketball History in the middle of March Madness:

On March 19, 1966, the unheralded and third ranked Texas Western Miners (now UTEP) were facing the number one ranked and heavily favored Adolph Rupp coached Kentucky Wildcats.    At the time teams in the SEC, ACC, and the Texas based SWC didn’t recruit African American players for racist and stereotypical reasons.

Texas Western started a lineup with five Black players, David Lattin, Bobby Joe Hill, Orsten Artis, Harry Flournoy and Willie Worsley versus Kentucky’s all white lineup that included future NBA coach Pat Riley and Louie Dampier.

The reason why this game is very important in the context of basketball history as well as American history can be summed up by Monica’s quote:

The kids at Texas Western just wanted the game more.  They were playing not just for an NCAA  championship, but for the dignity of a people.

The game forever destroyed the ‘n—-r ball’ stereotype about African American players and ended the color line in the SEC, ACC and SWC.   Rupp himself would recruit his first African American player a few years later before he retired..

However, the history of this particular Texas Western College team would not reach either the big or small screen until the movie “Glory Road,” which chronicled the team’s road to the 1966 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, in the face of bigotry, racism, and a general climate of fear and loathing by Whites in the 1960s.  Even with its critical acclaim, Glory Road is not mentioned by most sports movie fans as being a good movie.  Instead, demands for accuracy in the face of artistic license are called for when a specific event occurs in the movie that did not occur (supposedly) in its real life counterpart.

In contrast, the movie Hoosiers, a film about a rural Indiana (read: All-White) High School basketball team, is considered to be one of the greatest basketball movies ever made.  The artistic license taken in this film is much greater in degree and aspect than what was taken for Glory Road, however, calls to demand corrective actions have not been forthcoming to the scope or degree as called forth for Glory Road.  While Hoosiers casts its protagonists as being underdogs to the larger, taller, more athletic Black team from South Bend in the High School State Championship game, the feel-good emotions that come from watching the Hickory Huskers play Rocky Balboa to South Bend Central’s Apollo Creed gets undercut by this:

…the notion of containing blacks on the court by slowing down the game, stalling, and cat-and-mousing takes on deeper meaning. The educational, as well as the social and political, containment of blacks in everyday Indiana society reflects the same desire behind the effort to prevent black basketball players from, literally and figuratively, taking off. The motivation behind both forms of containment is white paranoia: What would happen if “we” let “them” go? Would “we” lose “our” schools? Would “we’ lose “our” pastime?

Deborah Tudor sums up Hoosiers as follows:

Driving to Hickory, along with Norm Dale, the spectator leaves all this behind and revisits an uncomplicated vision of patriarchal white United States.

It is not difficult to conclude that the usual White Racial Framing and Privilege play a role in what can be considered a classic, as well as what artistic license is allowed.

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One Response to The Bias of Hollywood, Sports Edition

  1. You are so right about accuracy in real life movies. When it touches a nerve people become uneasy.
    If people want accuracy, let the whole story be told. The powers to be of Commerce,Texas were upset with the motel segment of the movie. If it could never have happenned in that city in 1966, speak up. If it could have happened in 1966 because of segregation practices and hatred of darker races shut up.
    ps I was the captain of that team

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