They are back and better than ever!
When ESPN first launched its highly acclaimed 30 for 30 Series I knew little of what to expect. Other than the fact that I thought I would enjoy it. Bill Simmons was behind it and I had been a huge fan of his columns, podcasts, and his book The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy for some time! But what I was shocked by was the mainstream success of them and how everybody I ran into regardless of what sports they were into, what levels of fans they were, etc thoroughly enjoyed the series.
The documentaries dived into the highs and lows of 1980’s Bad Boy U Football, the tragedy of Hank Gathers, the Marion Jones scandal, and on and on. They told a different tale of sports. You didn’t have to be a crazy over the top sports nut to enjoy this series. It was of no surprise when they arrived on the idea to launch a second series of 30 for 30‘s on ESPN.
I have seen “Broke”, “Benji”, and “The Ghosts of Ole Miss” so far and they have done little to disappoint and I highly recommend checking out all of them if you haven’t yet.
The point is this though: Sports is only part of these athletes stories and their lives
The Ghosts of Ole Miss 30 for 30 explains the story of one James Meredith, the first African-American to be integrated into the University of Ole Miss. What that student and those football players exemplified during that process, at least in the documentary, was nothing short of exemplary while there is something to be said about the behavior of many others during that phase.
The sports stories get the accolades. The sports gets the notoriety. We as fans remember them as players on a field, their stats, wins, losses, records, completion percentages, points per game, etc.
But the true story of athletes is shown in the impact beyond the field
What the 30 for 30 Benji showed was the long standing impact of one child who was tragically gunned down before his time and the impact that his death had off the court. Countless lives were saved in the future because of the new ambulance laws, gang violence became a Chicago police priority, and there was a tragic hero that the city of Chicago still looks up to and models themselves after.
The 30 for 30 Broke shows the impact of these athletes financial decisions and how it has affected their personal lives, the family members and business partners that have been shook, and the shady workings of many in the sports agency business with these athletes.
The impact of what an athlete does is often remembered strictly for a few plays made on the field. Perhaps a league title won or a championship squandered but what an athlete does after the sport is over is the long term impact.
Sports is only the beginning often times for the long lasting generational positives or negatives these athletes will have on their families, friends, communities, and society as a whole. They have opportunities most will never have in making a well known and huge dents on society because of their name from the field after they are done playing.
This is something that often goes unnoticed by the naked eye but gets shown to light when you really expose the story behind the sport.
And that is what the ESPN 30 for 30’s do better than anyone around
Kudos to Bill Simmons, to the ESPN 30 for 30 Team, all those that help shape the documentaries, and those athletes that star in such long lasting and at times hurtful reminders of what has happened to them after sports. Sports after all is only the beginning.
RIP Benjamin “Benji” Wilson
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that the NFL Network has done an exceptional job on their own documentary series entitled “A Football Life.” The one on Chris Spielman, his tragic but uplifting story, was one to remember. I also wrote an article on my website on Chris’s incredible journey HERE if you are interested in reading.
The moral of the story is that sports are only the beginning for some of these people. What they do before, during, and after their careers end have stories all unto themselves and it needs to be reminded to us from time. I’d like to thank 30 for 30 for bringing a voice to stories that would have gone untold and to expose to a bigger part of athletes lives and to realize that even for them sports “is just a game” but life is where we have the chance to really leave an impact.
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