ESPN 30 for 30: Brian and the Boz (2014)

Directed by Thaddeus D. Mattula

The world of collegiate athletics has become quite the battleground for players v. universities, fans v. players, players v. professional leagues and so on. In recent years, the level of popularity sports has seen in this country is pretty remarkable, football especially. Players and teams are worshipped. Whole television channels are dedicated to the coverage and analysis, not just of X’s and O’s, but players and coaches lives. The sports world is under a microscope, leaving no space for a young college athlete to make any mistakes, lest s/he be brought to the court of public opinion, and subsequently be tried, convicted, and sentenced for the rest of their lives for something an immature college student did. The world of 30 for 30 has seen this story before, in the quite good Youngstown Boys, covering the trials of Maurice Clarett.

Thaddeus D. Mattula takes us back a bit further, into the 1980s, to explore another larger than life college athlete, whose mistakes were quite different from those of Clarett. Brian Bosworth, first and foremost, was a heck of a football player. At the linebacker position there was perhaps no one else as ferocious and productive, at least not in his era. However, with Brian came the Boz, his eccentric alter ego, known for flamboyant expression of self and style. Sporting a unique hair-do, the Boz would get under the skin of any opponent or fan base simply by being obnoxiously cocky and annoying. I know I would have hated his guts were I around to be a college football fan in the 80s. But what was perhaps most annoying about Bosworth, was his ability to back up any smack talk he laid down the week leading up to game day.

The character study of Brian Bosworth is endlessly fascinating, mostly due to the juxtaposition found by director Thaddeus D. Mattula by covering his story in this day and age and with Bosworth’s son along for the ride. By framing the reminiscence of Bosworth as a father son experience, Mattula cultivates the teaching moment Brian’s college career was. Bosworth could have had anything he wanted, loaded with talent and potential. But instead, he threw most of it away for a bit of media attention. Seeing the reactions of Bosworth’s son sums everything up. What he did as a college student may have been “cool” or “funny” in the moment, but being able to look back on his actions, it’s Brian’s disappointment in himself that really makes the film work so strongly on an emotional level.

I think that’s what sets a film like this apart from something like The U, which revels in the antics and abandon of its college athletics. Brian and the Boz shows us both sides of the story, the Boz, cool, talented and rebellious, and Brian, looking back not with joy, or with anger, but a sense of lost opportunities and regret. Brian Bosworth’s ability to make me sympathize and feel sorry for him is what not only makes this a good documentary, but it’s also what makes Bosworth so fascinating. Many of today’s college athletes could learn a great deal from this story. It is in every way a cautionary tale, warning of too much excess or ego, or excess of ego while trying to make a living at a sport that can quickly take everything away from you in a single play, a single second.

I’m sure many of us have regrets in our lives, big or small. There is always something in retrospect that could have been different, or better. But the experience, as they say, of having lived those moments is not only what makes us human, but it’s what makes us who we are today. I’m sure Bosworth would love to go back in time and tell his younger self to stop being such an instigator with the media and with the NCAA. But ultimately he built himself a brand, and was able to live on that accomplishment for some time, even after an injury ended his NFL playing career. The power of forgiveness is what gives the story such a fresh life in this film. For Sooner nation to forgive Bosworth his transgressions and learn to appreciate all that he did on the field.

*** – Very Good

 

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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