Balancing Act: The Evolution of Sports Documentaries from Journalism to Propaganda
The rise of curated narratives and the unfortunate decline of investigative journalism in the way we consume sports content
This week I watched the latest iteration in Netflix’s Untold sports documentary series. This production was called “Swamp Kings” and attempted to tell the story of the brief, tumultuous, and successful era of the Florida Gators football team under Urban Meyer. I was expecting many things out of this documentary, some of which it delivered (the evolution of Brandon Spikes, the rise of Tim Tebow and Tebowmania, and the obsessive nature of Urban Meyer) and some of which it didn’t deliver (no mention of Cam Newton leaving the team, no mention of the now infamous Aaron Hernandez story, and the portrayal of quarterback Chris Leak as a sort of hindrance).
The tone and stories told ultimately felt like a bit of a puff piece for Urban Meyer and to a lesser extent Tim Tebow. Meyer, as you might recall, was an utter disaster in the NFL lasting only 13 games as the coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars in one of the most bizarre coaching rides you may ever see in professional sports. Meyer, if nothing else, was a man in need of some good PR and it seems that this documentary aimed to deliver that. He is not the first person to try and seek some redemption through modern forms of media and storytelling. It seems that since Michael Jordan’s 10-part docuseries entitled “The Last Dance” debuted in 2020, athletes and coaches have taken to creating documentaries and podcasts to share their version of the truth. It is a curveball to the notion of journalism, narrative building, and image rehabilitation and something we can only expect more of in the future.
The Rise of Sports Documentaries
Documentaries have been around for almost as long as film has been a thing. If a fictionalized or dramatized movie is a novel then a documentary is certainly a well researched thesis. Documentaries aim to tell the story of what really happened in a piece of history through interviews, recorded footage, and narration as opposed to the…