These Sports Stories Should Have Their Own Documentaries

After all the buzz for “The Last Dance,” it’s time for new documentaries starring women athletes.

Bela Kirpalani, Editor-at-Large

If you haven’t been paying attention, “The Last Dance”  is a 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls’ last championship run and has been premiering in two-episode blocks each week. Because it’s about Jordan — and partly because almost every sports fan has been forced to stay home and watch nothing but old games — the series has been received immensely well, even breaking the record for the most-watched ESPN documentary ever.

As it continues to air over the next few weeks, and as people speculate about more men’s sports documentaries in the works, what if we were to instead brainstorm some women’s stories that could be highlighted? 

ESPN has proven itself as the premier creator of sports documentaries in the last 10 years, with its “30 for 30” series. In 2013, ESPN introduced Nine For IX, a series of seven documentaries “produced and aired by ESPN to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the amendment passed to ensure gender equality in American college sport.” While I’m not sure why women’s sports documentaries need to be separated into their own section, it was a promising effort on the part of the network. However, out of 92 films, only four “30 for 30” documentaries feature female athletes.

There are countless amazing stories in women’s sports that could be turned into successful documentaries. Here are four of my top picks:

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The USWNT’s Journey to a Fourth Star 

The United States Women’s National Team was no underdog in 2019, or any of the 20 years before then. It was no real surprise that they hoisted the Women’s World Cup Trophy that summer in France, becoming the most successful team in international women’s soccer. But the way in which the four-time champions played that tournament was insanely dominant — a 13-0 win against Thailand, a record 26 goals scored in the entire tournament and a couple iconic goal celebrations. There’s also the added storyline of winning the World Cup amid an equal pay lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Not to mention that the USWNT has some of the most entertaining personalities in sports: Megan Rapinoe is maybe the coolest athlete of all time, Ashlyn Harris is hilarious on and off the field and the trio of Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle and Emily Sonnett are everyone’s favorite silly crew. Quite simply, we might never again see a team as good and as storied as this USWNT squad. 

The Magic of the “Final Five”

In the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team of Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian and Aly Raisman stole the show. This quintuple of gymnasts won nine medals in total, the most since the Soviet Union won 10 in 1972. Not only did they demonstrate an unmatched drive and focus, but in doing so they got people talking about gymnastics. This amazing young group of two black women, a Latina and two white women turned heads and more than earned their moments in the Olympic spotlight.

Biles and Raisman also became prominent voices, speaking up about former team doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse. A further look at USA Gymnastics’ failure to protect and support its female gymnasts against sexual abuser Larry Nassar would also make for a very powerful documentary, but I think that the “Final Five” deserve to have their story preserved in a film for later generations to look back on.

The 2017 Minnesota Lynx

The Minnesota Lynx have enjoyed one of the most successful stretches in WNBA history, winning four titles in seven seasons from 2011 to 2017. And they did so led by none other than legendary coach Cheryl Reeve and all-time great Maya Moore, 2014 WNBA MVP and six-time All-Star. The case for a documentary could be made for any of the Lynx’s four title-winning seasons, but 2017 stands out for a couple of reasons. 

One, Minnesota was on a mission that year, having just lost in the Finals to the Los Angeles Sparks in 2016. In 2017, they finished first in the league, swept the Washington Mystics in the first round and found themselves up against the Sparks again in the Finals. That ended up being a nailbiter of a series in which they overcame a 2-1 deficit to win their fourth championship, tying the Houston Comets for the most titles in league history.

It was also the last of the Lynx’s championships. In 2019, Moore announced that she would be stepping away from basketball to focus on making a difference in criminal justice reform. Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson have retired and this offseason, longtime Lynx player Seimone Augustus — who holds the record for most minutes played for the Lynx — left the team to go to the Sparks. Minnesota is entering a new era, and there seems no better time to tell the story of the team’s powerful 2017 title run.

North Carolina Courage’s Back-to-Back Championships

Led by Debinha Miri, Crystal Dunn, Jessica McDonald and more, the North Carolina Courage performed the unthinkable, capturing the NWSL title two years in a row. The franchise moved to North Carolina in 2017 after winning in 2016 as the Western New York Flash, and has proven itself to be one of the top teams in the league. In 2018, the Courage stunned the reigning champion Portland Thorns 3-0, after narrowly losing to them in the previous year’s final. That season, North Carolina set regular season records for most wins (17), points (57), most goals scored (53) and fewest goals allowed (17). In 2019, they routed an electric Chicago Red Stars team that boasted league MVP Sam Kerr 4-0. A team with several USWNT stars like Dunn, Sam Mewis and Abby Dahlkemper, the Courage proved themselves as the team to beat with two dominant years in a row and their story could easily translate to a documentary.

The Sports Girl is a weekly column that features a girl’s take on sports. Yes, a girl. Yes, on sports.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 27, 2020 e-print edition. Email Bela Kirpalani at [email protected]

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