Colleagues weigh in on compelling sports documentaries – Sports Business Journal

I texted my siblings recently and suggested they watch the new Showtime documentary “McEnroe.” It revealed an introspective and self-critical side of the tennis player-turned-spokesperson. One of my brothers, obviously not a fan, responded, “I’m not sure I can sit through that.” But I stressed that’s the beauty of these shows, as you may unexpectedly find yourself engaged with a character. While I have no idea if Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell can coach a football team, I admire his empathy and passion, and felt he carried much of HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” And because colleagues in the business have told me how “real” actors Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds have been in their purchase of fifth-tier club Wrexham AFC, I jumped in and am truly appreciating their approach in “Welcome to Wrexham.” With these riches to choose from, I asked my colleagues to share what they’ve been sports-bingeing.
“‘Welcome to Wrexham’ is a fascinating look at a pair of celebrity owners who are hands-on in the management of a sports franchise,” said SBJ’s soccer writer Alex Silverman. “For all the announcements we see about celebrities taking small stakes in franchises, it’s rare to see them in the driver’s seat.” Assistant Managing Editor Ted Keith likens the FX show to another recent soccer tale, “Ted Lasso:” “The parallels are obvious — and welcome — but because it’s a true story it resonates even more deeply. Reynolds and McElhenney bring the comedy, the locals bring the heart. I’m hooked.”
“Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist” was also on the watch list. Assistant Managing Editor Betty Gomes liked the two-part Netflix doc about Manti Te’o, “though I thought it could have been one part.” Assistant Editor Tyler Everett called the production “very interesting” with “a lot of new information and perspective on a sad, bizarre story.” SBJ Atlas’ Derick Moss: “I was left pretty sympathetic to the former Notre Dame star, even more than I was in 2013 when the story was all over the media. He struck me as a kid who didn’t know what to do and didn’t have anyone to rely on that might have helped him steer the ship through a bad situation.” Silverman praised the doc’s detail. “I appreciated Jack Swarbrick’s insight about the larger-than-life stature of Te’o at Notre Dame and how the school handled the scandal from a PR perspective. The scandal is also a cautionary tale for people in our business, as reporters at major media organizations went along with the dead girlfriend story without checking basic facts.”
HBO and NFL Films hit the right mix on “Hard Knocks,” as a fresh team trying to turn around its fortunes seemed to resonate. Staff writer Na’Andre Emerson called it a great watch and felt it showed an organization “on the right track to building a special culture that today’s NFL team needs to win.” Campbell was clearly one of the stars of the show, and Emerson said his personality didn’t “seem forced or fake, just authentic, and his monologues make for great TV.” The show also won praise for its storylines. “I loved how HBO spotlighted the diversity of the Lions’ coaching staff,” Emerson added. Gomes concurred: “I’m a fan of ‘Hard Knocks’ and enjoyed this season’s Lions edition. They are not a team that I follow, but certainly after watching the series, I felt like I knew the team, players and coaches better. I’m not saying I would pull for them over the 49ers, but I cared enough to follow their progress.”
OTHER THOUGHTS: Keith just finished “The Captain”: “Watched this with the whole family and we each found something that made it especially compelling, even for all those episodes. My kids loved the baseball. My wife loved the off-field storylines, from the contract dispute to the social life to the race relations. I loved it all, with a healthy dose of nostalgia thrown in.” … Staff writer Trevona Williams’ top three were “Hard Knocks,” “Untold,” and said she really enjoyed Netflix’s “Race: Bubba Wallace.” … Silverman called himself the “perfect example of the ‘Drive to Survive’ effect:” “I started watching during the early days of the pandemic, more out of boredom than any interest in F1. Now, I follow F1 more closely than most other sports and tune into races whenever I have the chance. I have an F1 fantasy team and listen to F1 podcasts regularly. I can’t wait for Season 5.” … Assistant Editor Preston Bounds recommends Netflix’s “Untold: The Rise and Fall of AND1”: “The film ultimately leaves one wondering what might have been: What if the athletes were better compensated and given equity in the brand? What if they had better anticipated Nike jumping onboard the streetball phenomenon? The doc lives up to the purpose of the ‘Untold’ series: exploring the stories between the cracks in sports history, rather than retreading/chronicling more well-known narratives.”
What’s been on your watch list?
Abraham Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.
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