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Review: ‘Vice World of Sports’ offers humanizing take on sports journalism

(Vice)

By Louie Greenwald

March 6, 2017 9:21 pm

“Vice World of Sports” blurs the line between the world of sports and what lies beyond the field of play.

The documentary series from Vice’s TV channel examines sports in relation to society.

The third episode of the second season airs Wednesday. Grounded in social commentary, each 30-minute episode is a fresh and thought-provoking take on the investigative newsmagazine show.

Its second-season premiere, titled “The Boom Squad,” takes a unconventional angle when examining America’s football obsession and its wide-reaching social consequences.

Rather than analyzing played-out stories of concussions or domestic violence, the episode centers on Liberty City, a low-income area in Miami, and pipeline for future NFL stars, such as Falcons running back Devonta Freeman. Youth football in Liberty City is a means of escape from violence for the children and a way for them to better their lives and give back to the community through coaching or charitable work.

Similar shows, such as ESPN’s “E:60,” feel more like documentaries. However, “Vice World Sports” is more of a narrative series, featuring a beginning, middle and end. The show is comparable to HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” which follows one NFL team through its entire training camp, tracking the stories of individual players.

“Vice World of Sports” pushes the boundaries of a newsmagazine program by addressing topics related to popular culture, whereas previous sports shows have been fairly restricted to sports and politics. During season one, the show featured an episode on fantasy sports and gambling titled “The Line.” The pieces expand the reach of “Vice World Sports” beyond sports fans; those without a vested interest in a team can also enjoy the show.

“The Boom Squad” episode highlights the history of the Liberty City community, the development of youth football and how youth football organizations have changed the lives of Liberty City children, some of whom have gone on to make names for themselves in the NFL.

The narrative structure of the show is engaging and easier to follow than sports documentary programs such as ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, which drags on and features expansive exposition of the historical background of subjects. “Vice World of Sports” is compact and linear, introducing historical background early on and then moving forward to address the present day without backtracking.

“Vice World of Sports” host and executive producer Selema Masekela acts as the show’s primary narrator, interviewer and voice. As a young black man, his voice is fresh in the homogenous world of sports shows overrun with old white sportscasters.

In “The Boom Squad,” Masekela interviews coaches, players and parents of the Liberty City Warriors, the town’s first youth football organization. Masekela gets straight to the point, asking questions that cut deep at the core of his subjects. Particularly poignant is an interview with the parents of 6-year-old King Carter, a former member of the Liberty City Warriors who was murdered as a result of the city’s gang violence. When King’s father recounts the shooting, the raw emotion causes Masekela to tear up.

While “The Boom Squad” illustrates Liberty City’s struggles, the episode also shines a light on individuals in the community who are fighting back. One of the most insightful interviews Masekela conducts is with Luther Campbell, a former rapper who returned to his hometown to found the Liberty City Warriors. Campbell’s work underscores the humanity in sports communities, which mainstream media often overlooks.

Fans of sports-show mainstays such “Outside the Lines” or “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” will find a novel take on the investigative sports documentary show in “Vice World Sports.”

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Louie Greenwald | Sports and A&E writer
Greenwald currently writes for Arts & Entertainment. He covered the UCLA softball team as a sportswriter in 2016.
Greenwald currently writes for Arts & Entertainment. He covered the UCLA softball team as a sportswriter in 2016.
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