Born to Play review – ESPN keeps its hot streak going

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Summary

Full of heart, this underdog story might just remind you why you love sport and introduce you to a new favourite team to root for.

There are many reasons that I love sport but probably the most simple and straightforward one is that sport gives us the clearest and simplest metaphor to understand the complexity of the human experience. Each aspect of our lives is in some way represented through sport, be that on the very surface level of winning and losing or in a deeper, more complex way like how we relate to our communities, identify with those around us, and find satisfaction in the process as much as the eventual outcome. In the booming genre of sports documentary the good ones find a way to represent one or two of these, rarely does one hit multiple boxes. Born to Play does.

Focusing on the story of a women’s tackle football team we get to go behind the scenes of what amounts to amateur sport. Don’t let the term amateur fool you though; this a group of women entirely committed to their craft. They pursue their sport with complete devotion despite the many challenges in place in a sport traditionally occupied by men.

Men’s football occupies such a large space in the cultural zeitgeist that as a UK-based viewer this may be the first time I have encountered the women’s game. What we are introduced to shares so much of the DNA that makes the more celebrated men’s equivalent so ubiquitous; the physical contact, the narratives that run between rival teams, the willingness of the players to sacrifice their own physical wellbeing for a cause they believe to be larger themselves. However, there are some key features missing in the women’s game: the chance to play regularly and the chance to train at a standard that will allow the players to meet their potential, for example. The ladies profiled here put up with so much that gets in their way and we admire them all the more for it.

By introducing the factor of the glass ceiling that hangs over so much of women’s sports, this ESPN documentary from director Viridiana Lieberman somehow manages to capture so many of the key features that make sport so incredibly relatable and actually manages to enhance them. When you watch The Last Dance, you know that in exchange for excellence Michael Jordan receives adulation and financial reward, but what happens when there is none? The simple answer is everything that sport gives its participants, the chance to be our best, the opportunity to be hero, to explore the sides of ourselves that so often get left working at our desks.

Born to Play is a documentary feature about a women’s tackle football team, but it’s about so much more than that. If you have even a passing interest in the power of sport, then this is one to add to your lockdown playlist.


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Andrew Punter

Andy joined the Ready Steady Cut team in October 2018. A Graduate of Exeter University, he writes mainly about films and TV.

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