Undefeated [Movie Review]

Undefeated_face Amazon

Do you want to know a little of what it’s like to coach at Allendale-Fairfax High School? Watch Undefeated.

This movie is a documentary of a football team from an inner city school in Memphis.  From what I was told, the original idea was to follow a specific player (O.C. Brown) who was being recruited by top schools, but the producers realized that the story was about the entire team.

Right off the bat, I need to point out a couple of differences between Memphis and Allendale:

  1. Memphis is urban, and Allendale is rural. (This distinction should be obvious if you know anything about either town.) Urban and rural areas have unique strengths and weaknesses
  2. There seems to be a lot more violence and crime among the teens in Memphis, compared to Allendale. Allendale seems to have a stigma about crime among youth, but I don’t see it. (Then, again, I may be blissfully ignorant or naive.)

But despite these differences, there is so much in common for the lives of people in these two communities.

Common Ground:  Absent Men, Angry Boys

One common theme between Memphis and Allendale is that these communities and schools are characterized by a culture of generational poverty. In both places, children are teens are more likely to have a family member who has been in prison, than to have a family member who has graduated with a 4-year college degree.

In both places, teens are more likely to have used illegal drugs, than to grow up in a two-parent household. Many kids are being raised by caring (but tired) grandparents.

Particularly due to the absence of positive male role models, what you are left with are a bunch of young men who have the emotional intelligence of children. You have 17-year-old guys who think that just because your football season is over due to an injury, that it makes perfect sense to give up on school.

You have guys who have just been released from jail who are ready to fight because a teammate touched his arm. You have guys that get so angry that it can take an hour or more for their emotions to settle down.

And you have a bunch of angry young men that need to know that they are loved. That is where the coaches come in.

Coaches Who Care

Early in the documentary, Coach Bill Courtney says, “Football doesn’t build character. It reveals character.”

I think football does both — build and reveal character — and the stories in this movie prove that. The relationships between these young men and the coaches would only have happened through being a part of the football team. And without the influence of the coaches, there wouldn’t have been the opportunities to have their character built.

I have seen the same with the coaches in Allendale. Coach Ford (and others) regularly emphasize that them being on the football team is bigger than them playing football for a few years. It’s about preparing them for life.

Football Can Be a Lifeline

I think about a young man who graduated in June. I was giving him a ride the other week, and he was reflecting on what football meant to him. “If it wasn’t for football,” he told me, “I probably wouldn’t have finished high school. Playing football was the only thing that kept me straight.” I’m sure he’s not the only guy who feels this way.

A lot of people think there is too much emphasis on sports in high school. Some argue that being an athlete is a privilege which ought to be withdrawn the moment there is trouble in school. In some cases, they are probably right. Teenagers should care more about academics than athletics.

But these people need to understand that for many young men, football (or other sports) provides the only lifeline they have. Being a part of a team may be the only motivation for them to care about school at all. It’s sad and not ideal, but it’s a reality.

Is it good that many kids think sports is the most important thing in their life? No, not at all. But since it’s true anyway, let’s not ignore the fact that their love of the game gives them a sorely needed opportunity to have their character both revealed and built.

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**image courtesy of Amazon


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