Education and athletics have faced off before and they surely will again. Particularly when prestige, enormous signing deals and outrageous salaries make winning in the sports arena more appealing than academic achievements. It's an attitude that's tough to deal with for conscientious coaches.
As the new basketball trainer at Richmond High, Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) has just four rules on his players' contract: Maintain a 2.3 GPA, show up at class, sit in the front and wear a shirt and tie on game day.
Hardly earth-shattering provisos. Yet for many of the inner-city students on his squad the requirements are hard ones to live by.
However, Coach Carter is a man with vision. As a former student at Richmond, he still holds numerous basketball records at the school. He also knows there is more to life than dribbling and dunking. And he has the stats to prove the boys on his roster have a better chance of ending up in jail than playing professional ball. Taking time away from his business of running a local sporting goods store, this volunteer staff member determines to ignite a passion for achievement in these young athletes and open up options for success they've never considered.
Unfortunately, Principal Garrison (Denise Dowse) and most of the team members don't agree with the coach's tactics when the boys come up short on their contract. Although the squad is sporting an undefeated record on the hardwood, many of them are failing miserably in their classes. In an unprecedented maneuver, Carter locks the gym doors, cancels games and sends his whole team off for remedial work in the library.
His play riles the ire of many school officials and community members too, especially parents who want the scouts to see their sons in action. But despite the media fervor, job threats and personal taunts, the basketball coach keeps his hoopsters sitting
Rather than focusing on winning state championships, this story centers on the discipline the team needs to succeed on and off the court. It's a brave script considering the allure of professional sports. Still Coach Carter doesn't let up on his demands of the boys. Along with their contract, he insists they refer to him as "sir", keep their attitudes in check and perform physical challenges for insubordination. He also puts a press on the boys' use of a derogatory racial slur. (It's too bad he doesn't do the same for their prolific use of profanities.)
Nevertheless the movie gets a major offensive foul for failing to check these teens' sexual activity... something they seem to have plenty of in their after hours. Following a big win, the boys sneak off to an unchaperoned party with girls they've just met. In the time it takes to set up for a free throw, these boys are stripped to their skivvies or hopping in bed. Unfortunately, the film also screens the players from any consequences for this irresponsible off-court behavior, even when a teen girl faces the decision to terminate her pregnancy.
Based on a true story, Coach Carter is a good reality check for teens (and some parents). With only miniscule numbers of high school athletes making it to the big leagues, emphasizing the student part of student-athlete may be the best thing educators, parents and responsible adults can do to ensure a winning future for aspiring competitors.