It is undeniable that history is an important part of sports. Stories told through sports have the power to challenge uncomfortable truths about what Canada has been like, and are useful when determining the direction in which anti-racism and inclusion initiatives within the sports landscape across the country should move.
I enjoy watching Sports documentaries They were completely influenced by filmmakers who used their art to tell stories from their communities and experiences that often go unreported.
Black Lives: Untold Stories is an eight-episode series that tells the stories of black individuals and communities, exploring everything from slavery in Canada — yes, there was a lot of slavery in Canada — to immigration, the justice system, sports leagues, and phenomenal athletes.
Recently I watched the sixth episode called more than one game. It airs on Wednesday, November 29 and is available Now on CBC Gem. Directed by Theron Twomey, it is insightful and powerful and shares the voices of some of the most prolific athletes Canada has ever known, as well as their descendants.
I don’t usually take notes while watching movies, but while watching this movie, I wrote down quotes, names, and dates and felt like it was an important history lesson that I never learned. I definitely felt that way about Indigenous stories and why I never learned about residential schools and the generations of innocent children who were abused and taken from their families in the name of colonialism. Why didn’t I learn this in my general education?
watched “I want the audience to experience what it means to be a black athlete”:
In Canada, we often mistakenly see ourselves as the place where black slaves escaped the horrors of slavery in the United States.
When Dr. George Eliot Clarke, Poet Laureate, says in the film: “We need to know all the history we have to know. Because if you don’t know it, you’ll be cheated and cheated and cheated.” “To think things are okay when they’re not okay,” I gasped. This simple declaration shocked me, but I was also thinking about why it applies to sports so much.
As with many things, sports and the presence and representation of black athletes is largely about context. Does it make Canada look good? Well, not always. But it provides us with the context we desperately need to work toward progress.
The film features brilliant black academics such as Dr. Ornella Nzindukimana, whose voice I recognized immediately when the film began. She is an expert on Black sports history and critical race theory and has followed her work for years.
There are the stories of boxer Sam Langford, baseball player Earl (Flatt) Chase, runners Valerie Jerome and Crystal Emanuel, and hockey player PK Subban. While Subban is also listed as an executive producer for the episode, his story is closely tied to the theme. Producer Leslie Norvell told me via email that including Subban’s stories about being a black hockey player in Canada was a production decision separate from his work as an EP.
The way Subban is woven into the story ties in with the Jerome brothers’ 1950s running track in North Vancouver and with Chase, the pitcher who played for the Chatham Colored All-Star team in the 1930s. According to the film, Chase “hit the longest home run at every park he played in.”
There are moments of glory and accomplishment, but there are also parts where these incredible athletes faced the harshest types of abuse and mistreatment. We can say that this no longer happens – Yes it is – Or we can watch and listen to this film as we learn the ways in which we can empower Canadian sports with an arsenal of talented athletes regardless of their colour.
Telling the stories of marginalized communities often involves hardship and it is difficult to balance telling these stories without making them painfully pornographic for audiences not used to personal stories. I struggle with this sometimes when I write because even though I believe in perseverance and growth, expressing the urgency and importance of learning about someone’s life experience is difficult. Tommy succeeds in keeping us engaged and intrigued while amplifying the important points and creating a beautifully produced film.
more than one game It is not a film that ignores the connection between people and their love of sports. In fact, sport is central to the story because it is the foundation and part of the identity of all the people depicted. Sports are something we can agree we love, and the desire to make them stronger in Canada is what unites us.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the past two decades unlearning and relearning what I’ve learned. Sports historians provide viewers with a wealth of rich information about Canada as Tommy takes us on a journey that delves into the way sports are organized and how the media has historically treated black people in Canadian sports.
If we like something, we want to make it better, right?
more than one game It gives us an opportunity to not only get our pens out and learn properly, but also to think deeply about what we want for sport in Canada, and what we want for ourselves.