In Sports Docs on May 14, 2014 at 6:38 am
Director: Alex Gibney
Writers: Jim Podhoretz, Larry Weitzman
Stars: Donald Brashear, Marty McSorley and Chris Nilan
Today’s sports documentary suggestion is “The Last Gladiators” which can be found on Netflix streaming. The film takes a look at some of the last enforcers in the National Hockey League (NHL). The story is centered on Chris “Knuckles” Nilan a former enforcer for the Montreal Canadians. There are other players known affectionately as “goons” who are mentioned but the story always makes its way back to Chris.
“Gladiators” tells the story of men whose main job was to fight and protect their teammates. Nilan’s story is a complicated one that we see play out in sports all the time. He was raised in a tough hardnosed household. Nilan suggest that his upbringing followed him to the role he would go on to take in his hockey career. We get to take a look at the life of man who is pushed to the limit on the field of play but struggles to turn off that engine when he is off it.
The film paints a narrative of these enforcers whom more than a few have hard life after their playing days were over. The film is mostly about Nilan but it does a good job of using his contemporaries to give some perspective on what the era was like in the NHL. The meat of the story comes with Nilan’s struggles off the ice with drug addiction and his in ability to adjust with life post playing. It speaks to a tragic tale that is seen in all sports after the fans stop cheering and they have to live their lives.
Keith B. Holt
Follow on Twitter @Kholtjr
In Sports Docs on November 18, 2013 at 2:01 am
“Against The Tide” is a documentary produced by Showtime Sports that highlights one of the most influential games in college football history. The game in 1970 featured the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Trojans of USC, played in Tuscaloosa, AL. The Alabama team was coached by the legend Bear Bryant his team was not integrated yet. They were all white playing against a fully integrated team from California that was coached by another legend John McKay. We get insight to what led up to that special matchup of two very different giants of college football.
The film takes a look at the culture in the south coming out of the 1960s and the racial tension that existed in the state of Alabama. The first year after a decade that was full of racial violence and outspoken political figures who wanted keep segregation alive. University of Alabama had admitted black students by 1970 but in very small numbers. The winning football had remained all white. This was not uncommon in the south as mostly all SEC teams were not integrated.
The movie highlights a game where Alabama got crushed by USC of a score of 42-21. By all accounts in the film USC could have won by more if McKay would have not called the dogs off. The movie also addresses the speculation that Bear Bryant scheduled the game with his friend because he knew that the Tide would lose. The film does not confirm the claim and most of former players dispute that theory. The movie does confirm that Bryant wanted to integrate his football team before the school administration was ready that to happen.
The team that visited Tuscaloosa was a stark contrast to the Crimson Tide. The USC team was coached by McKay who had been bringing black player to the school throughout the 1960s. Black players had been playing at the school since the 1920s. The 1970 team actually featured a black quarterback in James Jones. This was not popular even at integrated schools back in 1970.
The movie is clear that the game is not solely responsible for football in the south integrating. What it does assert that it did open a lot of eyes to the fact that times were going to have to change of the SEC schools wanted to compete with other teams from around the country. You also get a glimpse of some of the complicated relationships that took place in that time period.
Keith B. Holt
Follow on Twitter @Kholtjr