It’s hardly news, of course that a movie that’s “based on a true story” would fudge some facts, much less a historical sports movie (Sure, the Titans won a playoff game on a last-second, 80-yard reverse. Sure they did). And hey, why not, right? If we already know that the protagonist will succeed, why not have him do so in the face of as much adversity as our sick minds can imagine?
Such was apparently the mindset of the producers of The Express, the story of Heisman winner Ernie Davis and Syracuse’s magical championship season in 1959. In the “uplifting” movie, Davis and his teammates endure untold amounts of harassment from opposing fans, perhaps nowhere more so than in Syracuse’s trip to Morgantown to face West Virginia.
There, the Orangemen encountered nasty, brutal, racist fans who showered the team in garbage, threats, and epithets. In a true testament to the team’s countenance, they struggled through the hostility and kept their championship dreams alive. There is, of course, one teensy little problem with that storyline.
It never happened. At all.
First of all, Syracuse played in Morgantown in 1960, not 1959; Davis had already won his Heisman and the Orangemen their title. 1960’s campaign was still successful — 8-2 — but hardly as charged with drama. And as the CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL explains, that’s the least of the falsehoods, as not even Syracuse players who were there that day are going to bother defending the mischaracterization:
“I apologize to the people West Virginia because that did not happen,” (former Syracuse QB Dick) Easterly said. “I don’t blame people in West Virginia for being disturbed. The scene is completely fictitious.”
(Patrick) Whelan, 71, of Safety Harbor, Fla., played center for the Orangemen.
“It’s not important to the people who weren’t there,” Easterly told the St. Petersburg Times. “But we’re sitting watching this thing, saying, ‘Jeez, where did they get that from?”’
Why, from the depths of white guilt, that’s where!
Look, aside from their visit to the Cotton Bowl to face Texas (and we’re sure that was pleasant), Syracuse didn’t go anywhere threatening in 1959. Like UCLA was going to step to them? Navy? And sure, if you’re going to tell a story about a black athlete overcoming the very real racism that permeated society in that era, it helps–in a dramatic sense, anyway–to provide some concrete examples.
But at the same time, those West Virginia fans are going to see the movie, too. It’s not exactly right to talk about them like they’re not in the room or something. And intentionally misrepresenting a giant group of people based on their skin color and their predilection toward unruliness, stupidity, and violence? That … there’s a word for that … oh, yeah - hey, racism!
[terrorist fist jab: TNIAAM]