Pop Politics: What should you watch? – The Price of Success

Courtesy of ESPN

Courtesy of ESPN

This weekend — while you are in between NCAA tournament games, or avoiding NCAA tournament games, or mad that your bracket is busted — here are a few great documentaries available on Netflix and Amazon Prime about what it takes to be a champion.


Schooled: The Price of College Sports
(2013)- Netflix

If you watched Last Week Tonight’s episode this past Saturday, you would have seen John Oliver’s excellent break down of what is wrong with collegiate athletics and the concept of “student athletes.” Schooled, a documentary released in 2013, is a more in-depth look at the problem looming in college sports. Based on the book Cartel: Inside the Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA, the film gives the viewer a history of college sports, from the creation of the NCAA by Walter Byers and his coining of the term “student athlete”, to the issues that arise when maintaining the student part of student athlete. Schooled is a great supplement to Last Week Tonight’s segment because it doesn’t just discuss the lack of compensation for college athletes, but delves deeper into the issues schools have with maintaining academically eligible athletes and remaining competitive. It specifically discusses University of North Carolina’s fake classes scandal, in which the school created fictional courses in their African American studies program. In addition to the UNC scandal, the film also addresses Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit and the removal of amateurism for the Olympics.


Hoop Dreams
(1994)- Netflix

Hoop Dreams is a 1994 documentary about what it takes to make it to the NBA. The film follows William Gates and Arthur Agee, two black high school students from poor neighborhoods in Chicago, after they are recruited by the predominantly white St. Joseph High School. Hoop Dreams is often considered one of the best documentaries ever made because of its personal look at the struggles of these two young boys as they endure long commutes, foreign environments, and long practices. The film also explores economic divisions, societal struggles, and education in contemporary America. Roger Ebert once called it one of the best films about American life he had ever seen. In his review for Hoop Dreams, Ebert stated,

Hoop Dreams is not simply about basketball. It is about the texture and reality of daily existence in a big American city. And as the film follows Agee and Gates through high school and into their first year of college, we understand all of the human dimensions behind the easy media images of life in the “ghetto.”


The Gray Seasons
(2011)- Amazon Prime Instant

The Gray Seasons is neither a perfect documentary nor the “new Hoop Dreams,” as one reviewer proclaimed. Taking place over four years, it is a personal look at what it takes to succeed in college basketball. The film follows coach Shimmy Gray-Miller during her tenure as Head Coach for the Saint Louis Billikens women’s basketball team, where she attempts to turn a failing program into one of the best programs in the Atlantic-10 Conference. The film is an earnest look at a Division I team on the periphery of March Madness. They are one of those teams that struggles just to be successful in their own conference tournament, let alone win a national championship. It is so easy to focus on successful championship winning programs, but it is hard to remember there are 283 teams that don’t make the NCAA tournament, just struggling to accomplish something. As Coach Gray says toward the the end of the film, “This is not Hoosiers… not even close. This is not Coach Carter.” Instead The Gray Seasons is an intimate look at what college athletes give to their programs to be successful, even if that success may never come.