We are the Titans! The mighty mighty Titans! Those were the words I can remember clearly from watching the movie about the TC Williams High School football team. The movie portrayed a racially integrated Alexandria, Virginia high school football team that came together over the course of a football season in 1971 to claim the state championship. All of this was done under the coaching and guidance of the head coach, Herman Boone (portrayed by Denzel Washington). When I was younger, I would watch all the way through to the end credits where actual pictures of the team and coach were shown in a slide show format. I would wonder, what was it really like back then? In doing some research, I found that the movie I have enjoyed and felt inspired by, is inaccurate as to the events that occurred that fateful season. It turns out that the story became, through the movie, one of Hollywood created drama and exaggeration of truth to make a feel-good story; and, sadly, because of the distortion of the truth, it is hard to tell who is attempting to pursue reality over myth over who is trying to revise history.
Although an entertaining and emotional story, the movie is unfortunately riddled with inaccuracies. First, the movie represents that schools in Virginia were not racially integrated until 1971. Rather, the schools were racially integrated eight years earlier in 1963. However, the plot would have been more accurate if a stronger reference was made to residential segregation and the impact of consolidating the three high schools into one high school, TC Williams. Tate, (2012).While the merger created issues with regards to bringing in three schools’ student populations onto one campus, the atmosphere of the community was more of a “cosmopolitan bedroom community” rather than the “stereotypical Southern town, circa 1950s.” Within this inaccuracy is the notion that white members of the team were threatening to boycott the season based on the previous Head Coach, Coach Yoast. However, the reason that the players were threatening to boycott the season was more directly related to the increase in student population influencing the team roster dynamics, not race. Further, the heated rivals-to-best-friends relationship between Gary Bertier and Julius Campbell was a created drama to show a star Caucasian player at odds with a star African-American player. This manufactured friction, however, was far from the truth. Both players were friends from the start, all the way through to Gary Bertier’s death in 1981.
Secondly, while it is inaccurate to have had a brick fly through the window of Coach Boone’s home, this inaccuracy is interwoven with some truth. Members of the community did throw an object through the window, and the object was a toilet. The producers changed the item to a brick because they felt that the toilet would offend the viewers.
Thirdly, even the records of the team were exaggerated by the film. For example, in the state championship game, the team was not losing by seven at halftime; rather, the team won the game in dominating fashion, twenty-seven to zero. In addition, the star player Gary Bertier, was in fact paralyzed from a car accident; but, he could participate in the game, unlike in the movie, which portrays him cheering on his teammates from a hospital bed.
I point out the differences between the facts versus the plot of the movie to demonstrate how while the distorted facts made for a more emotional and compelling story, it is a disservice to distort stories to convey a message. In a world where there have been many positive stories of breaking down racial divides and of people diverse backgrounds coming together, it would appear better to find a story that could be accurately told rather than changing facts to make the story.
Additionally, where the facts are distorted, there becomes a vacuum for ill-spirited individuals to enter the revisionist history arena with stories to change the narrative in their favor, and make the story negative. A Deadpsin article came out in recent years, that tried to make Coach Boone out to be a vicious head coach, who mistreated players of any race. I was shocked to see such commentary, after having grown up identifying Denzel Washington’s representation of Coach Boone as my understanding of Coach Boone (to some extent) in real life. While I am surprised at this revelation of information, I began to wonder about the motivations of the person (former kicker, Greg Paspatis) who provided the information to the Deadspin writer. I especially became suspicious of Mr. Paspatis’s motivations when an article in the Alexandria Times quoted him as saying that street names should not be re-named based on the vote of some “Johnny come-latelies.” I presume in this comment, he is talking about people not just new to Alexandria, but perhaps a commentary on people new to the United States. Perhaps he had his own personal grudge to settle with Coach Boone; or, perhaps, all that the former player was describing was true. Further providing blurriness to the actual truth is a rebuttal article that former player James Amps III wrote, that depicted Coach Boone as the father figure that the movie presented him to be.
To conclude, while I am still to this day inspired by the movie and its message of understanding, friendship, and teamwork, I now know more to the story than I did before. I also view the movie and the conflicting histories as a cautionary tale, that sometimes it is essential to let the facts get in the way of a good story.
Tate, Amy S. “Remember the Titans, Historical Fact or Fiction?” Old Dominion University. 2012. 21 Feb. 2012.