Last week I watched the documentary The Best that Never Was. The film is an installment in ESPN’s 30 for 30 franchise, and explores the life and times of legendary football player Marcus Dupree. Dupree is not a household name to most Americans, which is unfortunate. Had fate not intervened, Marcus Dupree would be mentioned today in the same conversation with Jim Brown, Tony Dorsett, Marcus Allen, Barry Sanders, and Emmitt Smith. He was that good. I say it was about the life and times of Marcus Dupree because it was just that. The best sports books and documentaries are not about balls and strikes, or touchdowns and extra points; done well they explain why one should care about sports, and that rarely has to do with the final score.
Marcus Dupree was born in Philadelphia Mississippi in May 1964, less than a month before the disappearance and murder of Civil Rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. It was these deaths that led President Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act the following year. Dupree entered public school a few years later and was a member of the first class in Philadelphia to attend integrated classes from kindergarten through high school.
I found the film touching for a number of reasons. Dupree’s lack of bitterness is one reason. It also covers subjects I have always found interesting. Then there is the fact that Dupree is just a few years older than I am, and my recollections of the events is vivid. We remember what happened during our high schools years with great clarity, even when they happened to someone else. I will leave it to the film to explain how and why it all unravels for Dupree.
Mississippi has always been a place of intrigue and fascination for me. I went there several times on my own when I visited my father each summer at his home in Arkansas. In 2009 I took my soon-to-be bride there to see Graceland, among other things. Elvis, Faulkner, Muddy Waters go hand-in-hand with the Civil Rights Movement, poverty, illiteracy, and other social ills. Like America itself. Yesterday, December 10, was the anniversary of Mississippi statehood. The Magnolia State entered the Union 195 years ago. Of course, less than five decades later it would become the second state to leave the Union. Yesterday the former lieutenant governor spoke at the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson.