Sony Pictures recently announced it was developing a feature biopic on the life of former Jackson State quarterback Casey Therriault.

“The White Tiger” will delve into Therriault’s past, which includes a 2008 bar fight that landed him in prison for six months on a manslaughter conviction after the death of Jonathon Krystiniak.

After his stint in jail, Jackson State took a chance on Therriault in 2010 and he proceeded to become one of the most prolific quarterbacks in school history. He broke several single-season passing records. He was SWAC Newcomer of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year.

What a remarkable redemption story. The white quarterback from Michigan had done all of this at an historically black college in Mississippi of all places.

The national press ate it up.

But Therriault’s story, unlike black athletes who end up befallen only to receive a second chance, was framed differently.

Therriault was a hero. He was everything that embodied the ideal of the second chance

You would be hard pressed to find anyone at that time, or now, who viewed Therriault through the same prism of criminality as a black athlete coming from a similar place.

When young whites, especially the athletes screw up, their misdeeds are treated as a normal juvenile occurrence.

Mistakes are downplayed as part of the “boys will be boys” behavior prone to white males who simply have unfortunate bouts of mischief.

See Johnny Manziel.

Black athletes on the other hand are demonized for even the most innocuous transgressions. They’re seen as part of black behavioral pathology.

See every black athlete who has been accused of a crime.

Jameis Winston, the first-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, still is unable to shake the scarlet letter of a rape accusation he was branded with while the quarterback at Florida State.

Winston, as a sophomore, won the Heisman Trophy and led the Seminoles to a national championship while facing possible jail time.

The court of public opinion, however, still believes Winston got away with raping a white woman even though he was never convicted of a crime.

There is no biopic in the works for him.

Nor it seems for Brian Banks, a former football player who spent five years in prison after being falsely accused of rape in 2003 while in high school.

After his release from prison in 2012, Banks got a couple of shots to make NFL rosters but was cut. He now works in the NFL Department of Operations.

Why isn’t any film production company scrambling to make movies about these redemption tales?

There is no white hero or savior present, that’s why.

Cynthia Frisby, an associate professor at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, published a book entitled “How You See Me, How You Don’t.”

It explores how black athletes are more likely to be portrayed negatively by the press than white athletes.

Regarding morally successful stories, 83.3 percent were on white athletes, where there was only one story, which amounted to 8.3 percent on black athletes, according to the book.

Frisby further explained, “The morally successful stories: 83.3 percent were on white athletes, where there was only one story, which amounted to 8.3 percent, on black athletes. Accomplishments: 20 of the stories, 58 percent, were white, whereas eight stories, or 23.6 percent, were black. On their personal lifestyle: 42.9 percent were white versus 33.3 percent black. And then athletics or skills or abilities: 46.2 percent were about white athletes and 23.1 percent, or three stories, were on black.”

Some might say there have been many redemption-type narratives concocted about black athletes who’ve fallen from grace only to recapture it.

And those people would be right.  But what they would miss in nearly all of those stories is a white institution, white coach, white family or white teacher being cast as the savior of the black athlete.

Without the Tuohys, Michael Oher wouldn’t have developed into a Pro Bowl NFL offensive lineman.

Can anyone name one instance in sports media where a black person or black group was given credit for repairing the life of a befallen white athlete?

I fear Jackson State will not be the deliverer in Therriault’s Hollywood coronation.

He undoubtedly will be the lone literal and figurative white knight. Therriault will play both the oppressed and the savior in his own story.

JSU will be incidental at best just like in all movies where this black-white relationship is played out on screen.  These white savior narratives make white audiences feel good about themselves by portraying them as liberal messiahs to fledgling black people.

Jackson State saved a once imprisoned white quarterback and might not get credit for it.

Update: Director Lee Daniels did announce plans to document the life story of Brian Banks.



3 COMMENTS

  1. there is a movie that is in the works on Brian Banks. It was announced last summer. Lee Daniels is directing it and funds was being raised in part through Kickstarter.

  2. I think it would be best to wait and see the movie, then decide whether it delivered. Anyone undertaking a creative endeavor probably deserves to have the work judged after it is done rather than before it even starts.

    While I agree with you about the way black athletes are portrayed in the media, and I agree with the liberal savior trope (like white ghetto teacher stories) I think you missed the draw of this story for the public. I think if Casey had done the same thing at any one of a million small PWC’s or even a large program that took a chance on him, it would have been a much smaller story. The hero of almost every take I saw on Therriault was JSU, its staff students and fans. The mother of the guy that died and Casey’s mother to a lesser extent. You know the point comes when the public starts to crave something different and something that has depth. If you are too busy waiting for what you are used to, you can miss that.

    A white QB who does 6 months in jail and then goes on to play, even well, at an FBS program just isn’t much of a hero story by Hollywood standards. The compelling part of the story is that JSU took him in and practically adopted him.

    Of course the institution can’t be the hero. That would make it a boring documentary. Some coach or player or person will have to be the Mentor who guides the hero through the fish out of water ordeal. The racial tension will be unfairly exaggerated because you have to create tension, and every Journey has to have a Gatekeeper or Sentry figure to obstruct the quest. Thats just basic storytelling. If the story is just Casey getting past his troubles and going on to an 8-3 season, and by the way there were a whole bunch of black people there, its just going to be boring. I don’t get the feeling that this is where this project is headed based on the news stories…..but in fairness, I will wait and see.

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