The Great White Hope: A History of Subtly Racist Sports Movies

To see why we're suspicious and steamed, check out these other, pattern-forming sports movies about light-skinned saviors.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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If not for sassy Sandra Bullock, this young black man would be living on the streets.

The Blind Side, a new sports drama based on Michael Lewis' book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, tells the real-life, against-all-odds story of Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher, who came from a broken home and lived alone on the mean streets of Memphis, Tennessee before becoming a football star. How did he do it? He was saved by some well-to-do white folks, of course!

Not to take anything away from Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, the good people who took Oher in and helped him realize his potential, but seriously, why do sports movies always have to focus on black ghetto kids going nowhere fast until their great white hope comes along to teach them how to not be illiterate or go to jail? Whatcha tryna say, Hollywood Honky-wood? Black people can't make it without benevolent whites? Don't make us call Rev. Al on you! To see why we're suspicious and steamed, check out these other, pattern-forming sports movies about light-skinned saviors.

Hardball (2001)
• Keanu Reeves plays a degenerate gambler who's forced to pay off his massive debt by coaching a Little League team of troubled black kids from Chicago's notorious, gang-infested Cabrini-Green projects. He plans to repay his debt and ditch his players, but he inevitably takes pity on them and stays to teach them how to be winners. No, not even a degenerate gambler bets on black.

Wildcats (1986)
• Goldie Hawn plays a girl's track coach at a bourgeoisie (i.e. white) high school who leaves to follow in her famous father's footsteps and coach football, only the job is at a scary inner-city high school where there are guard dogs! She manages to transform her rowdy, undisciplined black players into a team because there's no limit to what white pluck can achieve!

Radio (2003)
• His bald white head beaming beneficence, Ed Harris plays real-life South Carolina high school football coach Harold Jones, who takes in an illiterate and mentally handicapped young black man (James Robert "Radio" Kennedy, played by Cuba Gooding Jr.). By allowing him to work with the team as head cheerleader, assistant coach, and team manager, Jones transforms Radio from a town joke into a inspirational figure. You see, it's the kind white man who is really special.

The Love Guru (2008)
• Romany Malco plays a black hockey player who loses his girlfriend (Meagan Good) to a well-hung white French-Canadian goalie (Justin Timberlake) and is aided in his quest to get her back by a white spiritual leader (Mike Myers) who was raised in India and sounds like a Slurpee-slinger stereotype. There is way more racist fuckery in this turd of a film than we can even begin to discuss here, but seriously, a black man turns to a white savior because he's intimidated by another white dude's dong?! This shit is implausible even in Bill Romanowski's fantasies.

Cool Runnings (1993)
• After failing to qualify for the 1988 Summer Olympics, four Jamaican sprinters try to achieve five-ring glory in the 1988 Winter Olympics as a bobsled team. Clueless about the sport, they seek wisdom from a drunken, grumpy old ice beast played by John Candy (literally, he was a beast on the ice, winning two gold medals bobsledding for the U.S. in the 1968 Winter Olympics before he got caught cheating in 1972 and moved to Jamaica in shame to become a bookie). Yet again, black athletes are so inept that even the lowliest, most destitute white bum has to be brought in to show them how it's done. Ice cold, Disney, motherfuckin' ice cold.

The Air Up There (1994)
• Kevin Bacon plays an assistant coach who goes to Africa to pry Saleh, a tall-ass teenage Winabi prince with star potential, from his tribe, telling him that playing college basketball will make him a better king. While on his recruiting mission, he helps resolve the tribe's potentially bloody conflict with an encroaching mining company...with a high-stakes game of basketball. Thank the gods for the white man, otherwise Africa would be really fucked!

Bring It On: All or Nothing (2006)
• Hayden Panettierre plays a cheerleader at an elite affluent high school who's forced to move to working-class, multi-ethnic Crenshaw Heights in East L.A. (gasp!). After initially clashing with the cheer team's black captain (Solange Knowles), she shows her new black and Latina teammates how to really move, so they can beat her old school and win a contest to appear in a Rihanna TV special. It makes perfect sense because, you know, white chicks have historically been known to back that ass up.

It's Still Racist! Bonus:
The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)
• Finally, a black man saves a white man! Will Smith plays Bagger Vance, a mysterious caddy who helps Matt Damon's character find his stroke again (pause) after the former golf star is traumatized by WWI and becomes a drunk. The thing is, Vance isn't a black man—he's a ghost! Way to throw black athletes a bone. Maybe next time don't sink it in the hole.


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