Today we celebrate the 15th anniversary of the movie classic “Remember the Titans,” a film which proves that false perceptions and conclusions based upon skin color can be overcome. It also reminds us of the magical power of sports: how it can heal, connect, empower and bring people together that, on the surface, seem dissimilar.
1971. Alexandria, Virginia. Two schools are closed and integrated within T.C. Williams High School under federal mandate, bringing together white and black students under one roof. Tensions and protests arise over the forced integration and we witness the impact immediately through the school’s football program, the Titans.
Bill Yoast (Will Patton) and Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) are two successful high school football coaches whose lives are forced to intersect through the school’s integration. Coach Boone is given the head coaching position of the Titans and Coach Yoast decides to remain on board as his assistant coach and defensive coordinator.
While we know how the story pans out, the experience of seeing it on the big screen is what instills emotions into everyone who watched the movie, especially to those of us who’ve been through similar situations. Having to prove that being Black doesn’t mean you can’t comprehend or lead. Having to prove that being Black doesn’t mean that you have the natural talent to play football and that you don’t have to work hard and train to be great. Having to prove that being White doesn’t mean you’re a racist, especially when you criticize a Black individual.
Remember, America was just coming out of the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘60s and the Vietnam War, so everyone had a lot to prove, understand, doubt, believe and overcome.
The tensions between the players and coaches flare up immediately when the team leaves for training camp. Their families express hesitation, scorn and contempt for what these players are being “subjected” to. It becomes even worse during those initial practices when insecurities and preconceived notions engulf the team, leading to anger and an incohesive group heading towards failure.
Realizing the need for unity, Coach Boone organizes an early morning run to an area in Gettysburg where he explains to the team that this was the place where men fought and died, saying“…fightin’ the same fight that we’re still fighting amongst ourselves, today. Take a lesson from the dead. If we don’t come together, right now, on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed. Just like they were. I don’t care if you don’t like each other right now, but you will respect each other, and maybe, I don’t know maybe, we’ll learn to play this game like men.”
The impact of the message doesn’t materialize until the late night practice when Julius Campbell (Wood Harris) and Gerry Bertier (Ryan Hurst) finally put aside the ignorance and attitude separating them and demonstrate the leadership and passion needed to unite the team. It appeared that Gerry took Julius’ “attitude reflect leadership” message to heart and put it to practice:
So what is it about Remember the Titans that makes it a classic? What is it that makes it one of the greatest football movies of all time? What makes it so special that we will watch it over and over again, feeling the same emotions each time?
The casting was great, starting with one of the GOATs of acting, Denzel Washington. He was joined on screen by the aforementioned Patton and Harris, as well as Donald Faison, Ryan Gosling, Nicole Ari Parker and a young Hayden Panettiere. It could be the magic of Disney, creating special characters and scenes that remain embedded in our memory such as “Sunshine” and the mama jokes in the locker room.
Every sports movie, like the real life games and stories they depict, has a moment which captures the audience, ignites their passion and creates a rallying point which we all gravitate towards and recite. In “Remember the Titans,” this was the moment when the chill escalated up your spine and cultivated your game face.
“Remember the Titans” is so much more than a movie based on actual events. It’s another example of how certain aspects in life, in this case football, can unite those that would otherwise be divided. It demonstrates how a team can be created by removing the negativity and focusing on the primary goal that everyone shares. How leaders can emerge when inspired. How imperfect people can still make a perfect team.
It teaches people how to “trust the soul of a man rather than the look of him” and it demonstrates how kin can come in different colors.
A year after the movie was released, we suffered through the tragedy of 9/11. Eight years later, we elected our first Black President. Fifteen years after its debut, we witnessed the birth of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. These are all events which brought people together to help heal, rebuild, celebrate and unite for a common cause. In some ways this movie is a manifestation of the realities of life off of the football field, yet one that demonstrates how the realities of life can be overcome through the events on the gridiron.
So fifteen years later, we celebrate this movie for what it was, what it gave us and what it represented. It’s ironic that we’re celebrating the film’s 15th anniversary as the Pope just completed his visit to the United States.
He brought with him a message of hope, love, peace and unity, reminding everyone to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” a message that all should be able to relate to and respect. His presence and message touched everyone regardless of age, income, ethnicity, language, religion or skin color.
Like the Pope, Coach Boone and his staff desired to unite and succeed in order to bring everyone together both on and off the field, a message the movie expresses clearly through every scene.
We celebrate “Remember the Titans” for the lessons it taught us through the realities it portrayed. This should be mandatory viewing for everyone as it has the ability to reach people of all ages and backgrounds. It reminds us that life isn’t based upon scripted reality programming and that all are capable of great things when given the chance, as opposed to restricting based upon physical appearance.
Maybe it will also remind people that all men are created equal and that things like skin color and religion shouldn’t be utilized as factors for dismissal.
But no matter how you feel about the movie or what you took from it, you’ll always remember, forever, the night you watched the Titans.