It’s one of the busier times for sports at all levels, so naturally I’ve also been watching a ton of sports documentaries on various streaming services. I’ll give a short review of some of my recent favorites.
ESPN’s sports documentary series “30 for 30” has been on of my favorites for a while, so much so that I actually bought all the seasons on Amazon Prime. I only include this fact to see if my wife reads this column. (Spoiler: She doesn’t).
Season 5 of “30 for 30” launched in September, and I finally had the chance to watch the four-part season premiere, “Once Upon a Time in Queens,” about the 1986 New York Mets. In typical “30 for 30” fashion it was a no-holds-barred holistic look at the team which had a drive to win that was rivaled only by some of the individual players’ drive for self destruction.
“30 for 30” had already covered the trials and tribulations of two the teams superstars, Dwight “Doc” Gooden and Daryl Strawberry, in the episode “Doc and Daryl,” so the focus here shifts to other players on the team, especially first baseman and eventual “Seinfeld” star Keith Hernandez.
Something that really struck me while watching was how much certain players’ addiction issues was a primary focus of the sports media in the years after the Mets won the World Series in ’86.
The coverage back then was almost cruel and largely fueled by ignorance, and tinged with the ever-present stain of racism.
Don’t let my focus on the heavier aspects of the documentary fool you — this one is fun. The players relate never-before-told stories and make some admissions along the way.
It also features Jeff Pearlman, one of my favorite sports authors. I’ve followed Pearlman’s career since he wrote that famous Sport Illustrated piece on former Atlanta Braves pitcher, “Survivor” contestant and all-around horrible human being John Rocker. Pearlman’s book, “The Bad Guys Won,” on the 1986 Mets is one of my favorite reads.
I also got to watch “Untold: Malice at the Palace” on Netflix, about one of the ugliest brawls in American sports history that took place between members of the Indiana Pacers and the crowd at the Palace at Auburn Hills in Detroit in 2004.
It focuses a lot on the players involved, their backgrounds and the response to the fight from the media. Like “Once Upon a Time in Queens” it shows an over-the-top, pearl-clutching response targeted at the players, particularly Metta World Peace (then known as Ron Artest) and Stephen Jackson. The media at the time basically ignored the fact that out-of-control fans are who started the brawl.
I’m not condoning the actions of the players in the incident, but I’m also not condemning them entirely. A lot of what happened that night was self-defense, and, in hindsight, the coverage of the incident feels one-sided against the players, and once again I have to say that it is also tinged with racism.
I love these looks back at major events from different perspectives. It can help us see that we may have gotten it wrong, and it offers us a chance to do better as reporters if similar incidents ever happen again.
I’ll close with a quote often attributed by Maya Angelou. I couldn’t confirm it’s actually a quote from her, so I’ll just say Unknown on the credit.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Unknown.
Read More:Yet another sports documentary binge