Can Football Cure Racism?: “Remember the Titans” (2000)

Probably one of the most inspirational films of my childhood, Remember the Titans, directed by Boaz Yakin, is a heavy hitter in the feels department. This film tells the story of a real-life football team, the T. C. Williams Titans, who become embroiled in the dismantling of segregation in 1971 Virginia. Lead by Coaches Herman Boon (Denzel Washington) and Bill Yoast (Will Patton), the team discovers friendship and teamwork among people of different races where others can only see hatred and competition. When I watched this movie as a ten-year-old, all I could think about afterward was how my parents were children at that time living in Memphis, TN. Surely, they encountered conflict like the main characters in Titans, and I was so surprised that people were still behaving that way even in my parent’s lifetime.  Then I grew up and learned people are still behaving like that today.

Alongside Denzel Washington and Bill Patton, the film also stars Hayden Panettiere as Yost’s daughter Cheryl, and Ryan Gosling, Wood Harris, Donald Faison, and Ryan Hurst as players on the Titan team, creating an energy and chemistry that makes me yearn for friendships as genuine as theirs become. Garry Bertier (Hurst) and Julias Campbell (Harris) are the emerged leaders among the rest of the young men, but their friendship starts out rockier than the rest.  The film lays out the landscape on which they overcome personal prejudices and become better men throughout the film, with Bertier even cutting ties with former friends who fail to revise their old bigoted way of thinking and accept their new reality. Ryan Gosling plays Allen, a handsome young son of a very outspoken, ignorant man who despises the effort to desegregate the school district about as much as he hates to admit his son is not the star athlete of the Titans. We see Allen come to terms with his own athletic ability when he gives a fellow black player his spot in a game after he realizes he can’t compete with the other team; he sacrifices himself for the good of the group. This story is a beautiful example of the profound changes relationships can inspire in us, and how quickly it can happen when the effort is there.

Another winning feature of this film is the soundtrack. I have an affinity for oldies and southern rock, so throw CCR and The Hollies into the mix and I’m totally hooked. I love it when movies use the soundtrack to segue the story into a more empowering platform. We hear “Long Cool Woman” come on at a pivotal moment in the film when the support of the community bubbles over, the boys taking a sledgehammer to an old Camaro labeled with the name of the school they get to play next. I believe the car is a metaphor for the “smashing” of racial prejudice among their teammates, and it gets me riled up whenever I see it- it just works. ‘The Temptations’ is the glue that binds the friendships together throughout this movie, underscoring the power of laughter when it comes to coping with a difficult situation.

The Titan football players begin this film as carefully molded white-southern specimens, regurgitating the hate-speak of their parents, replaying their skeptical, distrustful, lingering looks when confronted with the new experience of teaming up with people who look so different. What we see develop over the two-hour run time is something much different, something we need to remember in our daily lives today. It is no longer about just black and white (though we seem to still be fighting that battle as well), it’s about being different in general. It’s about what we value as citizens, what our priorities are with our families, and how we live our lives on a daily basis when people aren’t looking. Because you can’t fake acceptance- it becomes ingrained in the lining of your being, on display for all to see.

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