What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called the Magnificent Mia Farrow Blog-A-Thon, which is being hosted by Pale Writer. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been allowed to take part in several of her events, and since she keeps having me back, you get stuff like this!
You can see all the contributions to this blog-a-thon here:
Set in East Africa during the post-World War II dissolution of the British Empire, “Guns at Batasi” takes place in an unnamed country which really looks and feels like Kenya of the late 1950’s. This is a country which is recently independent, but like much of the post-Colonial world, is carved from borders not reflective of the cultural realities of the region.
As such this a a nation where a group of people known as the Turkana live in the north of the country and speak a language other than Kiswahili, the lingua franca of the region. This language is also the one used by the native soldiers amongst themselves. Nestled in the midst of this burgeoning division is a group of British sergeants led by Regimental Sergeant Major Lauderdale (played by Richard Attenborough).
Lauderdale is an old-school disciple of the British Empire; he drips with “Queen and country.” He’s also the one who points out the potential problem coming with the Turkana. Lauderdale is eventually proven to be right. A revolution overthrows the post-colonial government, which was British-friendly. As a result, troops from the new regime seize control of the King’s African Rifles base at Batasi. Naturally, they install their own commanding officer Captain Abraham (played by Earl Cameron). While Abraham has the native troops seizing the British weapons, Lauderdale and the rest of the British sergeants find themselves isolated in the sergeants’ mess.
However, a plot twist comes about when one of the African officers mutinies against Abraham and wounds him in the process. This sets the stage for a dynamic inside the sergeants’ mess.
Lauderdale quickly finds himself outmanned and outgunned. On top of that. he’s now responsible for his own men and the wounded Abraham, Miss Barker-Wise, a female British MP (played by Flora Robson), and a UN secretary named Karen Eriksson (played by Mia Farrow).
In the face of attack by the mutineers threatening the mess with two Bofors guns, Lauderdale remains ramrod-stiff as the Regimental Sergeant Major, his steely resolve allows the sergeants to survive the siege of the mess until the government restores amicable relations with the British. However, in the meantime, Lauderdale and his men further antagonize the mutinous Africans by refusing to hand over Captain Abrahams and by destroying the Bofors guns with which they were being threatened. As such, as the siege ends, Lauderdale is forced to leave the country as the leader of the mutiny has curried favor with the new government and demands his expulsion.
Upon discovering he’s been ordered out, for the only time in the film Lauderdale loses his cool; as a result he hurls a shot glass into his revered picture of the Queen. He regains his composure and strides defiantly across the compound to the film’s ending music.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
While the approach may be a bit clumsy, the heart and soul of this movie revolves around the idea that in the post-colonial world, everybody finds themselves dealing with evolving realities. That means regardless of race or class means it is going to be a whole new world. The sporting equivalent to the end of colonialism came in the dawn of free-agency.
Before free-agency allowed players in professional sports to move to other teams, owners had a colonial-style rule over the players. Regardless of how you want to look at that, the undeniable realities were that the player’s unions gained a great deal of power, player salaries exploded, and the diversity of self-interests prevented the players from having a united front in their dealing with ownership.
Of the major professional sports league in the world, there’s no better example than the National Football League (NFL). This is going to be on full display over the next year as the current collective bargaining agreement between the league and the player’s union expires in 2021.
In much the same manner as the new opportunities came about with the lifting of the thumb of colonialism, the NFL player’s union splintered into warring factions much like the newly-liberated Africans in “Guns at Batasi.” Some are heading into the next CBA cycle wanting a bigger share of league revenues ear-marked for player salaries. Others are digging in against a lengthened schedule. Then there’s the faction wanting increased health-care benefits for current and former players. At a certain point, those interests intersect; but at another they involve battling for the same finite resources.
In the same vein, the sergeants in the mess represent the NFL owners. While the sergeants may have had more unity than the Africans, like the NFL owners that commonality is far from total. After all, for every player’s union effort in the tug of war, there’s an owner holding the other end of the rope. The trick is some ropes have more owners than others.
For example, most owners are in favor of a lengthened schedule,; the union is not unless it means a hefty increase the player’s slice of the revenue pie. Naturally, the owners want more games because that means more money which some owners of the smaller clubs really need. Repeat this scenario across a 100-page long list of negotiating points, and one thing becomes clear; war and the collective bargaining process share a common trait. While truth may be the first casualty of war, the same can be said of union negotiations. But in either case, the second casualty is unity.
The Moral of The Story:
Be they a quarterback or a communist rebel, all people eventually put their own interests first.
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This is another “new” film you’ve introduced me to. Jack Hawkins AND Richard Attenborough? This I’ve got to see!
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I don’t know how you always manage to find a connection between sports and films, Dub, but once again you have created a truly fascinating comparative piece. I, as you know, haven’t the faintest clue about American Football, but I feel like you provided me with a solid idea of the politics involved in the sport. Thanks so much for another fascinating entry into one of my Blogathons 😊
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You know what they say…one person’s chemical imbalance is another’s entertainment. 🙂
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