Special to Page 2
The release of "Glory Road" has once again given us a movie that prompts a discussion about the issue of race in America. The movie "Crash" went far deeper into stereotyping and racism across all racial and ethnic groups, but it was seen by a limited audience. Sports movies like "Glory Road," "Remember the Titans" and "Hoop Dreams" are seen by wider audiences. The depiction of life in these films raises many important questions and inspires discussions about the state of America's race relations today.
"Glory Road" follows the season and the lives of the basketball players and coaches at Texas Western University on their way to the 1966 NCAA Division I Championship. This was the first time that five African-Americans took the floor at the same time in a national championship game. They faced an all-white University of Kentucky team led by legendary coach Adolph Rupp. Contrary to the information in the movie, Rupp had tried to integrate his Kentucky team in the late 1950s, and had also tried to recruit Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then Lew Alcindor, in the early 1960s. But it was still five African-Americans against five whites. It was unusual then for any more than two or three African-Americans to start for one team, and quite common for five whites to be starting. Now, of course, you'll often find the opposite.
Without understanding that it was doing so, this team was making a stand on social issues in 1966 in El Paso, Texas. Although the players and coaches say that Hollywood created some scenes that did not actually happen, there were others that surely could have happened when Texas Western came to town with an all African-American starting five. This was, after all, within three years of the assassinations of Malcolm X and Medgar Evers and the murders of three civil rights activists working in Mississippi. Two years later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. Although they did not know it, the young men playing for Texas Western could certainly have been in harm's way when they went into certain Southern towns.
Likewise, "Remember the Titans" told us the stories of coaches Herman Boone, an African-American, and Bill Yoast, a white man, as they helped T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., to successfully integrate. In 1971, they became head and assistant coach, respectively. That caused anger and protest in the white community, and it was only through the extraordinary efforts of Boone and Yoast that a team was built. Through the coaches' leadership, it did not matter in the huddle whether the players were African-American or white, Protestant, Jewish or Catholic. It mattered only that the Titans were focused on winning a championship. There was conflict, compromise and, finally, resolution. But above all, there was a total team commitment to the goal.
Boone and Yoast now tour the country talking about what the experience was like, answering candidly that Hollywood, in some cases, did not always accurately tell the story -- but acknowledging that it captured the context of what they and their team went through.