The Cost of Winning

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
The Cost of Winning TV Poster Image
Lots of logos in positive but shallow youth football docu.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Themes include working hard, taking school seriously, taking responsibility for oneself, and giving back to the community. Institutional racism, gun violence, and other socioeconomic issues related to living in inner-city Baltimore are also discussed. 

Positive Role Models

The head co-coaches and other members of the coaching staff are White, but most of the students and teachers are Black. They all want the best for the players, which includes getting every team member full football scholarships to get their collegiate education paid for. However, some of the adults are also accused of exploiting the players. 

Violence

Conversations are had about gun violence and how it impacts the players, but the details surrounding these events are not discussed. There are also images of very physical football plays. 

Sex

Boys sometimes practice shirtless. 

Language

Sometimes the coaches refer to the players as "cupcakes" and other euphemisms. Words like "hell" and "ass," and curses like "s--t" are audible. 

Consumerism

Under Armor, Nike, Adidas, and other sports logos are visible. The academy drives students in Chevrolets. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Cost of Winning is a docuseries about a talented private high school football team working towards a national title. If offers positive messages about working hard, committing to education, and striving for better things, but there are also conversations about institutional racism, gun violence, socioeconomic challenges, and the players’ efforts to overcome all of it. There’s also some cursing, including "s--t," "hell" and "ass." Chevrolet vans are visible, and logos for sports companies like Under Armor, Nike, and Adidas are prevalent throughout each episode. 

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What's the story?

Executive produced by former NFL player and Good Morning America host Michael Strahan, THE COST OF WINNING is a four-part documentary that chronicles the St. Frances Academy high school football team. In 2018, the Panthers were at the top of Baltimore’s private school league. But after alleged racially-driven controversies surrounding how co-head coach Biff Poggi was running the program, other teams in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association refused to play them. Now the Panthers are seeking to take the top spot in the national league as an independent program. Cameras follow the players as they embark on a grueling year of practice, travel, and studies in order to show the country what they’re made of. Throughout it all, Poggi and fellow head coach Henry Russell -- as well as additional team staff, academic experts, and the players -- share their thoughts about the unique challenges they face as an inner-city private school team in one of the most troubled cities in the country. It’s not an easy journey, but it does teach the young players that football can offer a lot of opportunities, in addition to challenges on and off the field. 

Is it any good?

This docuseries, which consists of four 30-minute segments, follows the top Baltimore team as they learn how to win and lose at the national level. The adult representatives of St. Frances Academy note that they are committed to ensuring their players graduate, earn full football scholarships, and have their college studies paid for. They also note the amount of grit and determination that the players have, especially given the school’s inadequate training facilities, and the lived experiences of some of the players, many of who are directly affected by inner city violence and socioeconomic factors beyond their control. 

Fans of the sport will enjoy the practices, game plays, and related activities. But while The Cost of Winning points to some of the many problems associated with high school football (like institutionalized racism and the fact that it's part of the lucrative business of youth sports), it fails to discuss them in any real depth, thanks to the series’ short installments. Meanwhile, some might have an ethical issue with Biff Poggi’s approach to improving the team, which includes investing a lot of his money in the overall program. But regardless of what you feel about St. Frances Academy’s football staff, you can’t help but root for the young men who are working hard to play well, get an education, and secure a future that will give them an opportunity to have a better life. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the challenges many of the students from St. Frances Academy face on a daily basis. Outside of football, what lessons are the educators and coaches teaching the players? Why?

  • There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding St. Francis Academy and their football program. Do you think The Cost of Winning was produced, in part, to clear the program’s name? Or is it to highlight the challenges the Panthers face as they compete for the title?

  • In the United States, youth sports is a multi-billion dollar industry. What are the problems associated with this? How does the media contribute to the industry's financial success?

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