Shawn Drury's Blog is now at shawndrury.com

Latest posts are at shawndrury.com

Boycott the Blindside (go to http://shawndrury.com/?p=300)

Posted by sdrury on November 21, 2009

Most Hollywood sports movies suck. They’re saccharine, pre-packaged and market-tested so as to be almost completely devoid of even the slightest thought. But some Hollywood movies are flat out offensive. The latest example is a movie called The Blindside. It’s based on a non-fiction book by the talented author Michael Lewis. Lewis has written winningly about baseball, the stock market, and the Internet boom. The Blindside is about football. Specifically, it refers to the blind side of the quarterback or the area beyond his vision while he waits in the pocket to throw a pass. Because of the quarterback’s importance (and the sizable contract he’s issued), the responsibility of protecting him has become only slightly less paramount than the job of the quarterback itself. This duty of protection falls on the sizable shoulders of very large but nimble men, who are paid handsomely, though not quite as well as the men they protect. In the book, Lewis ably details the relationships, developments, dangers and politics of The Blindside.

He also trains his eye on one Michael Oher. At the time of the book, Oher was still a teenager. He was born in Memphis to a crack-addicted mother. His absentee father was murdered. He attended at least nine different schools and repeated the first and second grade. No one had Michael’s blind side. Except Michael was well over six feet tall and tipped the scales in the neighborhood of three hundred pounds. A family friend, at the request of Oher’s dying grandmother, tried to get him enrolled at Briarcrest Christian School. He was denied at first, but after completing a home-study program of apparently dubious merits, he was eventually enrolled. While there he caught the attention of the children of Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, which given his girth was probably not hard to do. The Tuohys took Oher in. They fed him—no small task. They gave him a tutor. They paid his tuition. They basically were the parents that the young man desperately needed. He nudged his grade point average from 0.9 to 2.5. He eventually graduated from Briarcrest, accepted a scholarship to the University of Mississippi and last year was the first round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens. He signed a contract for $13.8 million.

But Oher’s is not a simple feel-good story. There were accusations that the Tuohys only took an interest in Oher because they saw dollar signs in their future. Not that they needed it because Sean Tuohy is the announcer for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies. He’s also a graduate of Mississippi, which is where Oher ended up going after being recruited by dozens of schools. Then there’s the matter of Oher’s coach, who was given a job of little responsibility at Mississippi. Some thought this was a case of quid pro quo.

Oher’s story is hardly unique. High-level college athletics is filled with young black men who have been coddled, spoiled and sheltered by adults who do so, in the name of altruism and, often, God. Yet I can’t help but wonder if any of these adults would give so much as a fleeting glance to these kids if they weren’t such gifted athletes and, therefore, potential pots of gold at the end of a rainbow. Actually I don’t wonder that at all, I know they wouldn’t. I was a high school basketball coach for nine years and saw several instances of minority athletes given a chance only because of their physical exploits while other needier students were ignored.

I have not seen the movie and won’t because it focuses only on the kindness and “tough love” of the Tuohys, played by Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw. What was so special about Michael Oher? How many other kids did they take an interest in? Were those kids athletes?

The story of Michael Oher is the perfect vehicle to raise the issue of how people involved in big-time college sports exploit young people for financial gain while nominally invoking academics and fairness. I don’t think for a minute that Tinseltown would address such a complex, controversial issue. Yet, not only is this given the kid gloves treatment in The Blindside, the movie perpetuates a niche within the sports genre: the black man who can only be saved through the benevolence and decency of white people. A short list:

Finding ForresterRadioBlue Chips, The Hurricane.

These are example of what are commonly referred to as institutional racism. Only slightly less insulting are the movies where white people hold black people in awe for the simple reason that they seem to be people of color who are (gasp!) smart, competent or determined. Examples: Remember the Titans, The Green Mile, The Legend of Bagger Vance and any recent movie starring Morgan Freeman.

For an honest tale of the complexities of race, athletics and corruption rent, the sweeping Hoop Dreams. It’s a documentary. It might be the best documentary, on any subject, that I’ve seen (And I’ve seen hundreds.) In the meantime, boycott The Blindside.

Advertisements

4 Responses to “Boycott the Blindside (go to http://shawndrury.com/?p=300)”

  1. LaFours said

    Should have kept the most in there. Although I don’t know what you define as a “hollywood movie”. Any how, can’t speak to the book, haven’t read it, though the aspect of how the left tackle became the second most important position on a team is interesting. But the movie is what a movie should be entertaining. Sure it’s an uplifting feel good flick, but do I need depression out of every movie I see? If so I’ll go see Precious if I want that.
    And yes there is the underlying race, and class issues. But Oher’s story is real. The uplifting tone of the movie will put those misgivings aside.
    I believe Oher’s only issue with his portrayal in the movie is that he had no football IQ, which he says isn’t true, he was always adept at football.
    Like I said I don’t know about the book. But the flick isn’t about race or class, or redemption. It’s about showing compassion to those in need. Ultimately it’s about family.

    • sdrury said

      No, you don’t need to be depressed by every movie but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for a movie to be smart. By that I mean it addresses more than one issue at a time, like the subtext of white guilt or how many black athletes are exploited. Just because we have a black president doesn’t mean these issues of race have gone away.

  2. Dilys said

    “What was so special about Michael Oher? How many other kids did they take an interest in? Were those kids athletes?”

    I haven’t read the book so I will just comment about the movie. I don’t know if you’ve heard the story about a boy throwing back stranded fish one at a time into the sea. A man asked the boy:”there are hundreds of fish here. You can’t save all of them. It doesn’t matter much.” The boy lifted up one fish, and threw it back into the sea, said:” it matters to this one, and this one, and this one.”

    I agree with you it is only one Oher that the family saved, but does he need to be special? If you agree that he is saved, then that’s all that matters. One at a time. When these deeds, like LaFours said, not necessarily about white helping black, but resourceful people helping those in need, get more prevalent, then the statistics will erase the uniqueness of each case and mount it to a higher level.

    Well-written blog btw.

    • sdrury said

      Thank you for the kind remarks about the blog and, yes, I am familiar with the stranded fish parable. I agree, better to save one than none. But Oher was much “easier” to save than other non-athletic boys his age.

      My larger criticism is not with the Tuohy’s so much as it is with Hollywood movies, sports mobies, many of them, that use black characters as tools for white people to be redeemed or somehow see a higher calling. Many times it seems the person of color can’t possibly be saved unless a white person of noble motive intervenes. If you watch the movies you’d think blacks were doomed to failure were it for the kindness of white people. See: Finding Forrester, Dangerous Minds, Radio, Jerry Maguire…there’s plenty more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: