Netflix dives into “Amateur” athletics

Netflix released Amateur, a story about the trials and tribulations of a 14 year-old basketball prodigy as he traverses through the darkest parts of amateur athletics.

Terron Forte, played by Michael Rainey Jr., leaves his middle school after being recruited by Liberty Prep Head Coach Gaines, played by Josh Charles. At Liberty Prep, Terron thrives until having to face some of the harsh realities that come with being an up-and-coming basketball player.

Prior to watching, I had no idea what the film was about. After watching The Carter Effect, Amateur began to play. I allowed it to run and low-and-behold I had found a Netflix original with some solid commentary on the problems surrounding college basketball today.

The film follows a pretty standard story line. Player stars at home school, gets offered a scholarship by a Prep school, he then signs with  hopes of becoming the next NBA Star, and from there everything begins to fall apart.

Terron’s game on the court is never in question. Once he works his way through his learning disability, Dyscalculia, and learning all of the teams plays, Terron begins to thrive as a point guard. The basketball side of things for Terron is perfect, but his world will soon be flipped upside down.

The signs were there all along. Whether it was his father Vince’s, played by Brian White, conversations in dark hallways with the coach, or when his teammates informed him that he didn’t have to really go to class, you could see Terron was heading down a path towards being stripped of his amateur title.

Two key points in the movie where the corruption surrounding amateur athletics was spotlighted are seen during scenes featuring “Byron” and a key recruiting scene featuring Head Coach Gaines.

During the scene with Byron, Terron is rewarded with a brand new iPhone following a victory. Although the scene doesn’t play a story shifting role as the film progresses, it is an early indicator of the behavior to expect at Liberty Prep. Terron receives a whole host of gifts ranging from phones to shoes to even gold necklaces. All of these gifts would be considered “illegal benefits” and would leave Terron ineligible to play collegiate basketball.

During a meeting with coach Gaines, Terron finds out that he has been offered his first scholarship. Terron, obviously excited, asks his coach to see the letter to which coach Gaines throws it away. Gaines claims that this was the first of many offers to come and that Terron should have his sights set on bigger programs. The sentiment comes across sincere until Terron notices scholarship offers for other players also thrown in the trash. He takes the handful of letters out of the garbage and returns to his dorm.

Terron links up with a teammate at the gym where he learns that the scholarships had been thrown away because the schools that offered don’t represent the brand that sponsors Liberty Prep. The situation is eerily similar to the FBI Investigation that occurred during the 2017-2018 season involving multiple schools and Adidas.  From here reality comes crashing down on Terron. He realizes that his coach isn’t there for him, he’s there for the money. His coach isn’t concerned with where he goes to college, he just wants to make sure Terron ends up at a brand sponsored school to further pad his own pockets.

This dilemma reaches its climax during a backroom meeting between coach Gaines and Terron’s father Vince. The two argue about Terron’s role on the team which gets rather heated. Gaines eventually fires off about how Vince forced Liberty Prep to pay for Terron to attend, along with all of the other illegal benefits Terron has received up to that point. Overhearing all of this, Terron records the conversation for his Instagram. This decision puts the final nail in the coffin for Terron’s amateur career.

Terron is no longer allowed to compete, he has been stripped of his amateur title. For most players in the real world, this would be the end of their career. Without the ability to play in college, the road to the NBA gets significantly tougher. The already uphill battle only grows steeper.

Unfortunately, this is where I feel the movie loses it’s touch. The film wraps up with Terron somehow swinging a shoe deal??? and being able to go to Europe to play professionally. For a movie that handled the serious issue surrounding paying amateur athletes the storybook ending is far too unrealistic.

For most players who become a victim of the system, there is no shoe deal. There’s no professional contract. There’s nothing. If Netflix really wanted to supply meaningful commentary on the subject, they would have ended the film the way most young athletes cast into this situation find themselves, out of luck and left without basketball.

Barring the ending however, Netflix did a quality job providing an understandable example of the issues currently surrounding amateur athletics. The problems plaguing the NCAA may seem foreign to the average person but Netflix breaks that barrier with ease. It’s time this issue is tackled on a grand scale if not for the sake of the game, but for the sake of those who have fallen victim to it.

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