‘Coach Carter’ Defies Sports Movie Stereotypes

Jacqueline Glenn, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Sometimes, losing is winning.

I expected ‘Coach Carter’ to apply this principle like every other sports movie does—they all seem to vary the underdog-becomes-top-dog trope.

As a rule, I try to spare myself this mediocrity by avoiding sports movies altogether, so I was dismayed when I accidentally clicked on the film while scrolling through Netflix’s ‘Recommended for Me’ page. Frantically, I tried to stop it from playing, but to no avail.

I was already thoroughly blanketed and cozy, so I ceased my resistance. It’s a good thing that I did, although the film’s premise at first seemed to confirm my previous reservations.

The story, which is based on real events, follows the revamp of a troubled high school basketball team, the Richmond Oilers, whose coach quits after a plethora of losses. The players all come from low-income households in a violent town where only 50 percent of students graduate high school. They need direction. 

My eyelids threatened to close at any second. Surely, I assumed, this sports movie’s story line would be like all the others: formulaic. 

Enter coach Carter (Samuel L. Jackson). 

Carter introduces himself to the team by presenting a strict contract that states that each player must follow four conditions in order to keep his spot on the team: maintain a 2.3 GPA, attend all his classes, sit in the front row of those classes and wear a suit to school on game days. 

While the results of the contract are predictable—the players become better students and  gain self respect—that did not irritate me, because Carter’s prioritization of self development is imperative and uncommon in sports movies. His theory is that athletes are people first, and they must improve themselves before they can improve their craft.

That advice encourages the audience members to examine themselves as well as the players in the movie. 

I felt tears prick my eyes as I reminded myself that although I play several roles, I am an individual first, an individual with unique struggles that I must overcome and strengths that I must develop. Before I am a daughter, I am myself. Before I am a student, I am myself. 

It was truly beautiful to watch the players realize similar distinctions about themselves using the dedication they learn in basketball practice. 

We watch Timo Cruz (Rick Gonzalez) transform from a disgruntled team-quitter to a studious athlete. Kenyon Stone (Rob Brown) shifts from a drifting baby daddy to committed boyfriend. The losing team becomes a winning team.

And the team’s exact number of wins was not emphasized—it was merely the quantitative result of the players’ self development. This removed the film from my brain’s “sports movie”category and into the “good movie” category.  

What could have been a formulaic flop was a fabulous film with depth and substance. It delivered the unexpected inspiration I needed in a two-hour package; even jaded movie connoisseurs will relish in its message.