Though it is a much maligned medium of communication these days, film and television has the potential to be a tool to display positive images amid a sea of negative imagery and over-used hyperbole. Often times, the term ‘based on a true story’ is beaten more mercilessly than the proverbial dead horse, but with far less moderation.
However, when it comes to stories like Coach Carter, the truth was well-documented and the outcome made it one of the most moving sports dramas of the modern film era. Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Rick Gonzalez, Robert Ri’chard, Channing Tatum and directed by Thomas Carter (When the Game Stood Tall), Coach Carter tells the real life story of Richmond (CA) High School coach Ken Carter, portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, who gained national notoriety and criticism for benching his undefeated 1999 basketball team due to poor academic performance. Like few works of its kind in the past decade, Coach Carter touched upon the often sticky issues of academics and ethics as they relate to athleticism. Its message is especially potent during a time when politics of scholastic athletics from junior high school through college are tempting the very best to use their abilities to circumvent authority, fair play and the rules that govern participation.
Today marks the 10-year anniversary for this very important film with a timeless message.
Last year, The Shadow League had the privilege of speaking with director Thomas Carter about his recent track record of directing sports-related film content of great quality and possessing a such straight-forward socio-economic views.
“My connection to sports films is an unintended coincidence. Even though I’m a sports fan, it’s something I didn’t set out to do. These stories came to me and they were great stories, and I was really interested in them. These two movies, Coach Carter and When the Game Stands Tall, have in common that they both sort of have a positive message for young people.
Uplifting stories with some exciting sports scenes thrown in. I think so many kids are interested in sports, both male and female, but it certainly seems to me that so many people share in common the thrill of athletic competition. It’s a pretty universal impulse. When you have team sports and you have people who have to work together, as is the case in When the Game Stands Tall, is ‘what is your obligation outside of yourself? What is your obligation to the team?’”
Indeed, obligation to the team often transforms into a greater obligation to family, obligation to community and a national obligation as well. Like classics such as Remember the Titans, films like Coach Carter are now forever a part of the American lexicon of inspirational films aimed at youngsters of all generations and backgrounds. These films show the importance of team sports, but more importantly they teach us life lessons that need to be shared with all, regardless of age, gender or skin color. They teach us how an individual and/or team can bring people together; how they can unite a community divided and demonstrate how victory can be achieved through unity and effort.
10 years ago, we watched one man inspire a confused teenager by asking him "what is your deepest fear?" We watched that same man build a team and inspire young men to want more and be successful through academics, athletics and tough love. 10 years later we witnessed people of all colors, backgrounds and ages come together across the country in support of a just cause that might not have even affected them directly.
The celebration of this movie is much more than acknowledgement of a great movie, man, team and individuals. It's a reason to make the effort to give back to people who could use your experience, knowledge, skills, understanding and time. And if you were in a tough situation, yet fortunate enough to have a Coach Carter in your life, today you might simply want to say to him "Sir, I thank you. You saved my life."