From Bottom to Top: Class and Sports in TV

In the world we live in, the contrast between the economically elite and others is growing wider and wider every day. Sports and opportunities in sports are no different, with the super rich having a clearly outsized advantage and the workers or “little people” in the sport driving the profits of those people. However, in the middle and for people at the bottom, there exists passion and opportunity like few other industries.

From the top to the bottom of society, sports represents the best and the worst of us. It’s not only an industry where the poorest, most down-on-their-luck can make good, but one where the rich and privileged make good on the backs of others. Today, three shows show us how the poorest of the poor through the richest of us in our society make good and find value sports.

Last Chance U and Starting From The Bottom

Last Chance U is a documentary series from Netflix that shows young men from various, but mostly disadvantaged youths, searching for a better life through sports.

Life is harder when you’re poor, and while there are certainly issues with young, mostly minority men seeing sports as their way out, Last Chance U puts social stratification on full display. Most of these young men don’t actually see the NFL or NBA in their future. They believe in the value of their sports career because it’s already gotten them this far and helped them from falling through the cracks.

These men and their families eat sleep for dinner, wake up before the sun to catch the bus to work or practice and come back the same way, sometimes at one or two in the morning, and then do it again. It’s all to make something better for their families. Last Chance U is about people first and foremost. Rooting for the team to win is less about football or basketball and more about supporting people who work their asses off fighting for the comforts of food, shelter, and to one day feel safe and secure.

Hustling From Lower-Middle Class

Hustle is a movie that came out this year from Happy Madison productions and Adam Sandler. It provides what seems like an honest portrayal of an athlete trying to better themselves and those who feel that the game has been key to their lives or foundation. 

Outside the sports-realm that most people know, the movie spotlights what it can mean to be a “lifer” in basketball, without ever having touched the highest level. Sandler is maybe the most famous real-life example of this, someone who has no other reason left to stay in the sport besides love for all that comes with it, as he’s still playing the game and wowing people with his relative skill, however there are millions of less-famous people doing the same and passing on the sport and what it’s taught them about life in the meantime.

Hustle is an ode to every middle class person that has dedicated their life to a sport, showing how it can be worthwhile and grounding despite bordering on obsession at times.

Winning By All Means at The Top

For many, sports is a display of men at their worst, and if their experience with sports

is limited that may make sense. In the HBO show Winning Time, men from the 70’s put on full display how much privilege and debauchery an, even seemingly, rich white man can get into.

By many accounts, Jerry Buss was a dog towards women and the business moves from the show – many of them ones Buss actually made – show a shameless capitalist who bets big and doesn’t care what debt may come. Like many who make the U.S. harder for others to get by in, he expects others to pick up the slack if his bets fail. He personifies the boys’ club of old, white owners in sports and shows how impervious these men were in their time. 

Sports as The Great Equalizer

Sports has been called by some, “the great equalizer,” and while somewhat short-sighted,

that’s still true on many levels. With the contracts being signed today, we may see the day where generational wealth is held by many athletes and maybe some of them will hold the same position as Buss, but until then, these three programs are a succinct anthology of what sports mean at the various levels of class and the opportunities they afford.

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