This story takes place in the town of Alexandria, Virgina during the early 1970’s. T.C. Williams High School has just been integrated due to the closing of the two separate all-black and all-white schools in the area. Denzel Washington plays Herman Boone, who is hired as the school’s head football coach over a well-respected veteran white coach who unhappily takes over as the assistant. Tensions arise when players of different races are forced together on the same football team, as the white parents and their boys who are loyal to the familiar show a strong effort to make Boone feel unwelcomed. Early on, the team is socially split between the white and black players and it is difficult for them to develop their team chemistry with this clear hindrance. Many of these tensions are eased during the two-week training camp in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, as the coaches set strict guidelines that essentially force the teammate to bond. The group’s focus on their pursuit to become a successful football team is their chief concern, and when they recognize that race may stand in their way, they refuse to allow that barrier to remain and naturally develop close relationships with one another.
When the players returned to Alexandria, they found the city in turmoil due to the forced desegregation of the high school, but as the season progresses, the team’s success causes the community to accept the changes. Based on true events, the team becomes the unifying symbol for the community as the boys and the adults learn to depend on and trust each other. There are a few key scenes that would be appropriate to discuss when viewing the film specifically from a sociological perspective.
There’s a beautiful moment of realization that the white coach experiences when, after a stranger violently throws a brick through Boone’s window when the white coach’s daughter was over playing at the house, Coach Boone says, “maybe your daughter just got a taste of what my daughters go through every day.” The white coach, from that moment on, becomes hit with a sense of understanding of Coach Boone’s struggles when the life of his little girl was threatened.
There is such a meaningful scene inserted into the story when Campbell walks alone in the all-white neighborhood and encounters policemen who instead of questioning him, actually congratulate Campbell on the team’s success. When all of the folks are peering outside of their windows at Campbell simply walking along their streets, the audience recognizes the strength that Campbell must have simply to show his face in the white-majority community.
The white coach throws away the Hall of Fame when he goes against the status quo and authority by telling the referees to call the game fairly. This shows the sacrifices that individuals who believed in the greater cause had to make. The powerful talk that he has with his daughter in the stands following his decision shows that he doesn’t regret it at all.
When Campbell visits Berteer in the hospital and the nurse restricts the visitation to only family and Berteer responds saying, “are you blind, nurse? Don’t you see the resemblance? Julius is my brother.” It shows that Berteer is able to essentially look past the racial barrier and develop closeness despite their differences. Campbell’s reaction to the comment shows his deep appreciation for being accepted.