As I’ve written before, we all love to root for the underdog. If there’s a genre primarily centered on the underdog, it has to be sports movies. If an underdog defeats someone who has more skill, then we feel like we’ve won along with the protagonist. And yet, these underdogs are often the characters with the least amount of resources needed to win. They aren’t necessarily “misfits,” who don’t even fit the standard profile for the sport. What’s more interesting, and often a reflection of the community of the game in question is how accepting these people are of an individual or team who doesn’t immediately fit into their preconceived notions of who should participate in the sport. Often, these misfits are based on race, but if the skills to compete are still there, then what should it matter what color their skin is? This week’s two films highlight some sports misfits.
Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours
While the Olympic Games are naturally biased toward countries with the financial resources to fund and train their athletes, they are also biased toward the climates of specific countries. The Summer Olympics are usually more inclusive, as most of the events included in them can be trained for indoors with no specialized climate needed (the water sports being the obvious exception). As for the Winter Olympics, countries that have natural areas of snow and ice often have an advantage because they can train outdoors if needed, or even if necessary. Similarly, their residents are used to the colder temperatures, making their competitive edge that much stronger. Even poor countries who can’t afford to build ice-skating complexes can compete in these games. But what if a tropical country wants to compete in the Winter Olympics? These misfits are so far behind the curve, nobody ever takes them seriously.
Since the Summer Olympic cycle is every four years, if an athlete cannot qualify for the Olympics for a particular year, they may find themselves too old or outpaced by younger athletes for the games occurring four years later. After an accident prevented Derice Bannock (Leon Robinson) from participating in the 1988 Summer Olympics for Jamaica, he started searching for alternatives to compete in the Olympics, any Olympics. Enter Irv Blitzer (John Candy), a former Olympic gold medalist . . . in bobsledding. Since bobsledding hinges on the fast sprint at the start, Derice figures his running skills could easily transfer. Gathering a team of fellow Jamaicans, they head to Calgary to compete and are immediately laughed at due to their home country. After a last-place run, the team takes the competition seriously and start to move up in the rankings. Will these misfits win a medal, or go home empty-handed?
Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours
The irony of using race to exclude individuals from participating in sports is that these people have often shown considerable talent, making the “original” players the misfits over time. Perhaps singling out someone with different skin color as a “misfit” in a sport is a way to protect the athletes’ fear that this misfit will perform better than them. As should be the case in sports, as in life, a person should be judged on their abilities and skills to get the job done, not on how they look or who they know. Considering the tenuous racial relations of the United States over the last 100+ years, it’s no wonder that the American “tradition” of baseball was so vehemently against racial segregation since it was what many considered to be a representation of the country as a whole. If white men were no longer the only players on the field, then this meant all players were, in a sense, equal.
Before the mid-1940’s, there were two leagues of baseball players: one white and one black. Few would consider adding a black player to a white team, but when Dodgers team executive Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) realizes Jackie Robinson’s (Chadwick Boseman) talent playing for the Kansas City Monarchs, he sets out to integrate Robinson into the Brooklyn Dodgers. This integration does not take place right away and is also met with resistance from the other players. After working his way up through the Montreal Royals, Robinson is finally allowed to play for the Dodgers, which presents its own challenges. While the players now accept Robinson, the other teams do not. Robinson faces taunting and violence from the coaches and players of the other teams, but his skills manage to shut them up and even earns the Dodgers a spot in the World Series.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 out-of-place athletes