I spent most of last week getting over a cold, so I caught up on some TV viewing. If you haven’t already watched Season 4 of Last Chance U on Netflix, you should. The series follows a junior college football program in Independence, Kansas, where players are getting a last chance to make the grades and get the tape they need to ideally advance to a D1 school and on to the NFL. Except we, the viewers, know just how heartbreakingly impossible these kids’ dreams really are.
What Season 4 lacks in the character development and drama of earlier seasons, it gains in terms of the clarity of the tragic sacrifices these young men are making in terms of their bodies and their brains. They are commodities, despite the best efforts of well-meaning professors.
Dallas native Markiese King is perhaps the most tragic example of all. He suffers three concussions during the season, plus breaks his finger and a bone in his ankle. After one game, where he is knocked unconscious for minutes and then is sent back in to play, we watch as he has to be physically restrained by teammates after the game as he gets incoherently violent, clearly still in the throes of having his brain rattled. Later, he doesn’t recall any of it.
The wide receiver played for South Oak Cliff High School, initially catching the eye of TCU and Texas Tech. But poor academic performance preventing him from enrolling. So he was relegated to JUCO.
During the show, King takes viewers on a tour of the housing project where he grew up, telling stories of gun violence and stopping at Hardeman’s BBQ to talk with his high school coach. Filmmakers interview his mother, who talks about her longterm illness, which often interfered with King’s high school academic career. As the credits for the season roll, we learn that King still hasn’t managed to get his grades up and his mother’s health has deteriorated, so he returns home to help care for her, with no football options in sight.
Meanwhile, the stogie-smoking, expletive-hurling, emotionally unstable head coach Jason Brown, who kicks King off the team before the last game for allegedly smoking marijuana, has been charged with eight felony counts for allegedly impersonating a lawyer in Johnnie Cochran’s law firm in order to threaten a news outlet. He’d already been fired as the head coach after texting a German player, “I’m your new Hitler.”
These young men have so much heart. They deserve better. From all of us.