We could stop the violence in America — if only Gregory Peck were president again
Maybe the Milwaukee Bucks were just following the lead of the Boston Celtics’ superstar Amazing Grace Smith when they decided to boycott their NBA playoff game against the Orlando Magic on August 28th. Back in 1987, when Amazing Grace, the league’s leading scorer, quit basketball, he himself was only following the mission of his new friend, 12-year-old Montana Little League pitcher Chuck Murdock, who gave up the thing he did best – pitching baseball – in order to convince President Gregory Peck to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Wait… who? What the?
More than 30 years ago, a little-known fairy tale of a movie called “Amazing Grace & Chuck,” written by David Field and directed by Mike Newell, told the story of two athletes who gave up playing sports to protest the threat of nuclear annihilation. That action sparked a movement in which all professional athletes quit.
We are now in a moment of time where that story could be coming true.
The NBA players’ boycott is a response to the recent shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man, by police officers in Kenosha, Wisc. The WNBA Washington Mystics took the court wearing t-shirts with seven bullet holes drawn on the back also to protest the shooting. But these actions are about much more than a single incident; they’re about far too many similar stories of injustice and intolerance in this country. The protests represent a series of high-profile attempts to find a solution. Could sports be the answer?
In the film, Amazing Grace’s influence is enormous. The first players to follow his lead are a pair of white, party-boy star football players from the Miami Dolphins. Color and discrimination aren’t what binds the players together, but rather a mutual distrust of the government and the fear of the world ending. The good old days.
In the real world, the players have also been trying to save the world from itself, but things don’t always work out the same way they do in movies. In “Amazing Grace & Chuck,” famously-crusty Celtics manager Red Auerbach simply shakes his star player’s hand and lets him out of his contract. Here in the real world, star quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s act of silently kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality has made him unemployable in the NFL. Kaepernick has been vilified for his action by the President of The United States; in the movie world, President Gregory Peck sits in Chuck’s bedroom and gently tries to explain why we need more nuclear weapons than Russia.
In the movie world, there is no Twitter backlash against the players’ protest (okay, it’s 1987, but still), merely Chuck’s grumpy father (played by William Petersen) who is suspicious of Amazing and afraid that his own role in Chuck’s life is being diminished. Of course, there are evil characters in the movie, but they are businessmen, not police officers. Big business is threatened by Amazing Grace’s bold statement and disrupts the plan – only to have young Chuck keep it going even further by inspiring the children of the world to institute a global silent treatment. By the end of “Amazing Grace & Chuck,” the president and the Russian premier sit in rickety stands and watch a little league baseball game in Montana to celebrate the end of nuclear arms and Chuck’s return to the mound.
In the real world, it’s too early in our fairy tale to know if there will be smiles at the end. Perhaps a truly happy ending isn’t possible in this age of demoralizing whack-a-mole. Brutal incident happens somewhere, protests follow. We seem to be in a constant state of protest. Justifiably. Right now, conspiracy theories and mistrust abound and there are many who think the basketball players should just shut up and dribble. But the players have been following leaders like Kaepernick and LeBron James; the Mets and Marlins recently laid down a BLM t-shirt on home plate, then walked off the field; WNBA players have Breonna Taylor’s name on their sneakers. Athletes are realizing that their platform can make inaction a call to action.
No one really knows where this will end. The players are getting support from some management and league officials. Is there a tipping point where they give up or owners or fans do? A tipping point where everyone starts to change? What does change really look like? It’s an age of so many questions, much like in a fairy tale — will good win out? It didn’t matter if the fictional superstar Amazing Grace went back to shooting his three-pointers in the movie; the world was at peace.
We know the world is not a movie or a fairy tale, but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t try to find a “happily ever after” moment. It would be Amazing if the players got us there.
Gary Rudoren is the co-author of the McSweeney’s humor bible, “Comedy by the Numbers.” (He is also married to the Forward’s Editor-in-Chief, Jodi Rudoren.)