Glory Road (2006)

Rated PG. Our ratings: V-2 ; L-1 ; S/N-1 . Running time: 1 hour 47 min.

David said to Saul, ‘Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.’ Saul said to David, ‘You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.’
1 Samuel 17:32-33

More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; many are those who would destroy me, my enemies who accuse me falsely.
What I did not steal must I now restore?
Psalm 69:4

Glory Road

The formula for sports genre films is well known: a small struggling team meets their new coach; he drives them hard; they fight him at first, especially when they mistake his hardness for lack of care about themselves; others discount them, until they begin to win, everything leading up to the climax of the Big Game. We know this formula from countless sports films, and yet still we are drawn to them, whether the sport be football, baseball, racing, or even one which we might dislike, such as boxing. A few of these films, such as The Jackie Robinson Story and Remember the Titans add an extra dimension to the formula, that of overcoming the cruel obstacle of racism (even Dreamer, with its Hispanic stable hands belittled by the villain). Such a film is Glory Road, the outcome of its Big Game not being just the recovered sense of self worth of the once derided team members, but the means of smashing the racist stereotype of society. Thus far director James Gartner’s Glory Road is the feel-good movie of the year.

When we first see him Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) has coached a girl’s basketball team to victory. He then jumps at the chance to move out to El Paso to become the head coach of Western College’s team, called The Miners, even though the pay is low and he and his wife and two children must live in the men’s dormitory. Seeing the sorry plight of his team, he embarks upon a two-pronged mission—to bear down extra hard during their preseason training, and to fan out across the Northern states with his assistants Moe Iba (Evan Jones) and Ross Moore (Red West) to scout for black players. His superiors are not thrilled at the latter, but Haskins knows that if his little team is going to win, it will be by the precedent-setting tactic of incorporating African-American players into his white team.

The first part of the film has several humorous incidents as the staff tries to convince skeptical black players, mostly encountered at urban playground courts playing pick-up games, that they are serious about offering scholarships to play on a team they had never heard of. Among the new recruits are Harry Flournoy (Mehcad Brooks) and Orsten Artis (Alphonso McAuley) from Gary, Indiana; Bobby Joe Hill (Derek Luke) from Detroit; Nevil Shed (Al Shearer) from New York City; and David “Daddy D” Lattin (Schin A.S. Kerr) from Houston. For some time they all feel like fish out of water, whisked off to an all white campus where the other students stare at them sitting together in the cafeteria as if they were beings from another world.

Off and on the court their melding with the white players is a slow, sometimes painful, sometimes humorous process. They resent Coach Haskin’s ruthless training, requiring them to push themselves far beyond their comfort zones, and they especially resent his insistence that they give up their flashy moves so effective on the playground courts and learn “the basic moves” taught by their coach. There are eventually those revealing exchanges with the coach when they learn that he does indeed care about them, and then the first game, which against all expectations, they win.

The action of the games is well caught by the never still cameras, and, as the team continues unbeaten, the pressure on coach and team mounts. Back home one of the big boosters whose wealth made possible the school’s sports complex bridles that blacks are playing on the team. On the road, the team encounters racism in even more vicious forms, one of the players beaten when caught alone in a rest room; their motel rooms trashed and nasty epithets smeared in blood on the walls; and insults and taunts hurled at them as they come onto the court. There are moments when we could not blame them for wanting to quit, but through it all their coach helps them to stand firm, until finally the white players have bonded with their black teammates so firmly that nothing can divide them.

The next to the last game is extremely exciting, with edge of seat incidents that throw the game into a double over-time. We might think this is too much of a Hollywood device, were not that Bettina Gilois and Christopher Cleveland’s script is based on fact. Then there is the build-up to the climax, the championship game in which the Miners are pitted against the current national champions, the University of Kentucky Wildcats coached by legendary Adolph Rupp (Jon Voight). At the press conference the latter is supremely, perhaps arrogantly, confident that his team will crush the upstart Miners for a fifth championship. No one believes that a team with so many “colored” players can beat the greatest team in the land. We hear the racist argument that, although “Negroes” are good physical players, they do not have the mental capacity to make the really good players required for high-pressured championship playing, and that the Miners’ 17-1 record is the result of having played teams far less power than Kentucky’s powerhouse.

To refute this pernicious belief Coach Haskins makes a decision that tests the loyalty of his white players. He tells them that he will play just the black players, thus preventing anyone from being able to say that it was a white player who won the game in spite of his black teammates. It is to their ever-lasting credit that, once they had swallowed their disappointment, the whites state that they agree with the decision—a great moment in the film!

What happens next on the day of March 19, 1966, became a turning point in the history of basketball, one that had results far beyond a mere sport. Once more, as with Remember the Titans, we are reminded that a game can be more than just a game, that it can symbolize a far deeper struggle than just one team against another. Thus we should not only remember the Titans, but also that team nobody had ever heard of until 1966, the West Texas Miners.

For Reflection/Discussion

1) What other sports films have you seen that are similar to this one? How do they show that one person can make a difference?

2) How is Psalm 69:4 an apt description of the plight of the African American players? The story took place almost 40 years ago: how have race relations changed since then? What still needs to be worked on to improve the relations between the races? What other forms of prejudice do you see? (For example, in Brokeback Mountain?)

3) There has been controversy over the way UK’s Coach Rupp is portrayed, over whether in fact he was a racist or not. What do you think of Voight’s portrayal? How is his wife portrayed as an agent of grace when she meets Coach Haskin’s wife?

4) What do you think of Coach Haskin’s decision to play only his black players? How must the white players have felt inside, and yet how does their acceptance of the decision show that they have conquered their racism? If Haskins had fielded a mixed team, what could the racists have argued about the nature of African-Americans in team sports?

5) A question raised in former guides for such sports films: how does this film show that God can use agents other than the church to smash racism? Has the church been very faithful in this struggle: how has it too often given in to the views of the culture: how has it risen above the culture at times?

Glory Road Rated PG. Our ratings: V-2 ; L-1 ; S/N-1 . Running time: 1 hour 47 min.

David said to Saul, ‘Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.’ Saul said to David, ‘You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.’ 1 Samuel 17:32-33

More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; many are those who would destroy me, my enemies who accuse me falsely.

What I did not steal must I now restore?

Psalm 69:4

The formula for sports genre films is well known: a small struggling team meets their new coach; he drives them hard; they fight him at first, especially when they mistake his hardness for lack of care about themselves; others discount them, until they begin to win, everything leading up to the climax of the Big Game. We know this formula from countless sports films, and yet still we are drawn to them, whether the sport be football, baseball, racing, or even one which we might dislike, such as boxing. A few of these films, such as The Jackie Robinson Story and Remember the Titans add an extra dimension to the formula, that of overcoming the cruel obstacle of racism (even Dreamer, with its Hispanic stable hands belittled by the villain). Such a film is Glory Road, the outcome of its Big Game not being just the recovered sense of self worth of the once derided team members, but the means of smashing the racist stereotype of society. Thus far director James Gartner’s Glory Road is the feel-good movie of the year.

When we first see him Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) has coached a girl’s basketball team to victory. He then jumps at the chance to move out to El Paso to become the head coach of Western College’s team, called The Miners, even though the pay is low and he and his wife and two children must live in the men’s dormitory. Seeing the sorry plight of his team, he embarks upon a two-pronged mission—to bear down extra hard during their preseason training, and to fan out across the Northern states with his assistants Moe Iba (Evan Jones) and Ross Moore (Red West) to scout for black players. His superiors are not thrilled at the latter, but Haskins knows that if his little team is going to win, it will be by the precedent-setting tactic of incorporating African-American players into his white team.

The first part of the film has several humorous incidents as the staff tries to convince skeptical black players, mostly encountered at urban playground courts playing pick-up games, that they are serious about offering scholarships to play on a team they had never heard of. Among the new recruits are Harry Flournoy (Mehcad Brooks) and Orsten Artis (Alphonso McAuley) from Gary, Indiana; Bobby Joe Hill (Derek Luke) from Detroit; Nevil Shed (Al Shearer) from New York City; and David “Daddy D” Lattin (Schin A.S. Kerr) from Houston. For some time they all feel like fish out of water, whisked off to an all white campus where the other students stare at them sitting together in the cafeteria as if they were beings from another world.

Off and on the court their melding with the white players is a slow, sometimes painful, sometimes humorous process. They resent Coach Haskin’s ruthless training, requiring them to push themselves far beyond their comfort zones, and they especially resent his insistence that they give up their flashy moves so effective on the playground courts and learn “the basic moves” taught by their coach. There are eventually those revealing exchanges with the coach when they learn that he does indeed care about them, and then the first game, which against all expectations, they win.

The action of the games is well caught by the never still cameras, and, as the team continues unbeaten, the pressure on coach and team mounts. Back home one of the big boosters whose wealth made possible the school’s sports complex bridles that blacks are playing on the team. On the road, the team encounters racism in even more vicious forms, one of the players beaten when caught alone in a rest room; their motel rooms trashed and nasty epithets smeared in blood on the walls; and insults and taunts hurled at them as they come onto the court. There are moments when we could not blame them for wanting to quit, but through it all their coach helps them to stand firm, until finally the white players have bonded with their black teammates so firmly that nothing can divide them.

The next to the last game is extremely exciting, with edge of seat incidents that throw the game into a double over-time. We might think this is too much of a Hollywood device, were not that Bettina Gilois and Christopher Cleveland’s script is based on fact. Then there is the build-up to the climax, the championship game in which the Miners are pitted against the current national champions, the University of Kentucky Wildcats coached by legendary Adolph Rupp (Jon Voight). At the press conference the latter is supremely, perhaps arrogantly, confident that his team will crush the upstart Miners for a fifth championship. No one believes that a team with so many “colored” players can beat the greatest team in the land. We hear the racist argument that, although “Negroes” are good physical players, they do not have the mental capacity to make the really good players required for high-pressured championship playing, and that the Miners’ 17-1 record is the result of having played teams far less power than Kentucky’s powerhouse.

To refute this pernicious belief Coach Haskins makes a decision that tests the loyalty of his white players. He tells them that he will play just the black players, thus preventing anyone from being able to say that it was a white player who won the game in spite of his black teammates. It is to their ever-lasting credit that, once they had swallowed their disappointment, the whites state that they agree with the decision—a great moment in the film!

What happens next on the day of March 19, 1966, became a turning point in the history of basketball, one that had results far beyond a mere sport. Once more, as with Remember the Titans, we are reminded that a game can be more than just a game, that it can symbolize a far deeper struggle than just one team against another. Thus we should not only remember the Titans, but also that team nobody had ever heard of until 1966, the West Texas Miners.

For Reflection/Discussion

1) What other sports films have you seen that are similar to this one? How do they show that one person can make a difference?

2) How is Psalm 69:4 an apt description of the plight of the African American players? The story took place almost 40 years ago: how have race relations changed since then? What still needs to be worked on to improve the relations between the races? What other forms of prejudice do you see? (For example, in Brokeback Mountain?)

3) There has been controversy over the way UK’s Coach Rupp is portrayed, over whether in fact he was a racist or not. What do you think of Voight’s portrayal? How is his wife portrayed as an agent of grace when she meets Coach Haskin’s wife?

4) What do you think of Coach Haskin’s decision to play only his black players? How must the white players have felt inside, and yet how does their acceptance of the decision show that they have conquered their racism? If Haskins had fielded a mixed team, what could the racists have argued about the nature of African-Americans in team sports?

5) A question raised in former guides for such sports films: how does this film show that God can use agents other than the church to smash racism? Has the church been very faithful in this struggle: how has it too often given in to the views of the culture: how has it risen above the culture at times?