Continuing our “Running the Race” series this month on “Reel Christianity”, I’m writing today about “Remember the Titans”. I’ll be honest, this is a good movie, but after all my high school history teachers started showing it in class every year during our unit on racism in the 1960’s and 1970’s, I got a little tired of it. But I’ll admit, this is one of the best sports movies I’ve seen in recent years, and part of that (in my opinion) is due in part to a great performance by Denzel Washington.
Washington plays Coach Herman Boone, the newly hired African-American football coach at T.C. Williams High School in Virginia. He’s taking the place of Coach Bill Yoast (Will Patton), who has just been nominated for the Virginia High School Hall of Fame. He and his daughter Sheryl (Hayden Panettiere, who, I might add, seemed to be in a lot of other Disney movies around the time this movie was made) are planning to look into other coaching opportunities, but the people of Alexandria, Virginia, don’t want him to leave their high school football team with a black coach. Boone, however, tries to ease this tension by offering Yoast the position of assistant coach. Yoast refuses at first, but he eventually accepts the position as defensive coordinator, and the team starts to form.
That team is segregated basically from the start. On one side, you have the white students, led by team captain Gerry Bertier (Ryan Hurst). On the other side, you have the black students, led by defensive end Julius Campbell (Wood Harris). And somewhere in the middle, you have guys like Louie Lastik (Ethan Suplee), who really don’t care about race. So when Boone begins to coach the team and lead everyone to football camp, there is immediately division. However, through people like Louie and others who try to ignore the factor of race within the team, the Alexandria Titans begin to unite. One day during camp, Boone takes the team to a field where the Battle of Gettysburg was fought, asking his team to put the idea of race and racism out of their minds:
BOONE: …You take a lesson from the dead. If we don't come together right now on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed, just like they were. I don't care if you like each other of not, but you will respect each other. And maybe... I don't know, maybe we'll learn to play this game like men.
And sure enough, the players start building relationships regardless of the color of their skin. They come back from football camp singing together and laughing together, to the shock of most of their parents. And when they start playing other teams, they win. And they keep winning—but unfortunately, part of the reason why perfection is demanded of them is because of Coach Boone’s situation. He is told that if the Titans lose even one game, he will be fired. So Boone and Yoast do their best to lead the team to victory every time.
That victory, however, comes with a price for Yoast. At one of the semi-finals games, the referees are being unfair to Boone, and Yoast calls them out on it. Because of this, he is told that his chances of being inducted into the Hall of Fame are gone. And later that night, after the game is won, Bertier is in a car accident and paralyzed from the waist down. But because of this, the team becomes more united than ever. And they go into their final game for the championship, they play (and win) in a way that will make everyone, as Yoast puts it, “remember the Titans”.
Even though I’ve seen (or, rather, had to see) this movie several times in school, I’m still moved by the story of unity in this team and how they (or most of them) were able to put racial prejudices aside and not just play well, but live well together. And I think that’s what Jesus calls us to: he tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and as he states in his parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, our neighbors even include those who we might have prejudices against. I believe that if we love in this way, we will be able to say at the end of our lives what Timothy writes in 2 Timothy 4: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (4:7)
My prayer for you continues to be 1 Corinthians 9:24b: “Run in such a way as to get the prize.”