Sports have surrounded me throughout my life. Every year, my parents drove me to a new team event, trying to see if I preferred baseball or soccer, if I was better at tennis or basketball. My dad spent hours watching games on the weekend, talking to my older brothers about sports news so often I don’t remember them talking about much else. I enjoyed growing up outside and playing games with friends, but the obsession with following sports never clicked for me like it did for my brothers and friends. I didn’t understand why people would watch strangers play games they often didn’t play themselves. I fit the stereotype of the nerdy teenager who condescendingly dismissed anyone’s attempt to discuss sports.
When I still looked distastefully upon sports, I had moments where I started to realize the attraction of watching them. These moments occurred when I watched sports movies, stories often inspired by real historical events, dramatized and condensed for the big screen.
The sports movie that really started my obsession is “Remember the Titans” starring Denzel Washington (“The Tragedy of MacBeth”), Ryan Hurst (“Rango”) and Wood Harris (“Creed”). Washington plays Herman Boone, a Virginian high school football coach attempting to racially integrate the team. They go on to win the state championship, overcoming racial tensions between players and coaches, along with prejudice from the community around them.
I can’t pinpoint when I first watched “Remember the Titans,” but the film feels like it has always been in the background of my life. On many weekend mornings, the TV would undoubtedly have the film playing on some random channel, and I would watch it all the way through every single time. The movie is ostensibly about football, but its emotional core is based on the people and stories behind the sport. Football is used as a tool through which the audience can see characters mend their conflicts, growing together to be able to accomplish mythological feats. By watching the characters, the film’s viewers learn strategies for specific plays and also come to the realization that the rules aren’t being fairly applied to the racially integrated team. The audience isn’t truly concerned with the minutiae of the sport; instead, viewers are invested because of what these details mean to the people who are playing and how they affect their journeys. After watching “Remember the Titans” for the 115th time, I found myself obsessing over the same thing I had once deridingly put aside. It showed me how people can become captivated by a game and its players that they have no tangible stake in.
“Remember the Titans” was the movie that first made me fall in love with sports movies, but it never made me want to watch real-life sports. I understood the attraction of sports, but they still felt out of reach. It would take another movie to change this.
Perhaps the greatest sports movie in existence is “Moneyball.” This movie made me understand why people devote massive amounts of their lives to sports. I found baseball unquestionably dull, the most popular game that I not only disliked watching but also hated playing. However, when I first watched “Moneyball” around five years ago, my image of baseball was thrown out the window.
“Moneyball” is about Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt, “Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood”) and his analytics-driven assistant Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, “21 Jump Street”), who try to implement a new strategy for building a baseball team. They hope to change how the industry looks at player value while trying to win with the lowest payroll in the league. Beane and Brand ignore external factors when looking at players, such as age and personal life, simplifying them down to easily understandable numbers based on their performance on the field. The story sounds mundane at first, one of sitting in back rooms, on phone calls between sports managers and looking at spreadsheets. But this real-life story captivates me every time I watch it. I am sucked into a larger-than-life story about a scrappy baseball team changing the game.
A common complaint about sports is that they are inaccessible and watching them requires vast background knowledge of the players on each team, the rules of each game and the strategies used to win. At its core, “Moneyball” is about breaking this tradition, replicating the events it is based on to tell a story about baseball not only for the die-hard fans but also for new fans who aren’t as knowledgeable. It shows how following a team for years can lead to celebrations shared by an entire community, no matter the time they have invested in the sport. I now see the draw behind sports, how the mythology of teams stretching back decades can lead one to become obsessed with games that to an outside observer might look inconsequential.
Recently, I have started to follow sports, beginning with college sports here at the University of Michigan. My newfound interest in the hobby undoubtedly stems from the same reasons I love sports movies so much; watching sports is worthwhile for the moments so unforgettable that it feels necessary to make a movie about them. There might be years with no eventful ups and downs, but every now and then, there are games that shock the country and that feel almost larger than life.
Daily Arts Writer Zach Loveall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.