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‘Radio’ Director, Stars Discuss Doing Right Thing

Do the right thing. It’s easier said than done. Some people aren’t interested in doing the right thing. Others are, but find the doing too difficult. Still others do the right thing, even at personal cost.

In the drama “Radio,” inspired by a true story and opening Oct. 24, Oscar nominee Ed Harris plays Harold Jones, a high school football coach in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />South Carolina who befriends a mentally challenged young man known as Radio, played by Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Set mostly in 1976, the coach faces an uphill battle to bring Radio into the life of a school and community unaccustomed to accommodating slower individuals. Parents of the schoolchildren are afraid of what Radio might do; parents of the football players think Radio is distracting their football coach. And in the midst of the fear and prejudice is a man trying to do what he believes is right.
 
“For him to capitalize on the opportunity of having this young man influence these other football players and kids in the school,” said Gooding during a recent interview with religious press in New York City, “that to me is such a powerful statement in the movie.”
 
“A lot of time, people judge based on the ignorance that they have. They don’t understand why a person is a certain way,” Gooding continued. “And once you come into contact with someone with a disability—mental or physical—and you realize their spirit is just like yours, it makes it easier to interact with them. And when you choose not to, it gnaws at you.”
 
Harris’ Coach Jones is being gnawed on, and he must act.
 
“Even though he has opposition from the whole town, he just decides this is actually the right thing to do,” said Sarah Drew, who plays the coach’s neglected daughter, Mary Helen. “And nobody wants it to happen.”
 
In the movie, Radio’s mother, played by S. Epatha Merkerson, doubts the coach’s motives, finally asking him why he’s helping Radio.
 
“I figure it’s the right thing to do,” the coach responds.
 
But the mother retorts: “I figure there’s a lot out there that’s right. It don’t mean we do it.”
 
Drew said she agreed with the mother’s perspective, offering that we often pass on doing the right thing “because it’s hard.”
 
“There are a lot of right things to do and we don’t always do what’s right,” Drew said. “It takes some kind of heart conviction to decide to go against what everybody wants and to know that it’s right and to then act upon it. In this culture, we’re kind of self-obsessed, and we want to do what’s going to be best for us.”
 
Sports, however, can help combat such self-obsession—the examples of some professional athletes notwithstanding.
 
Mike Tollin, who produced and directed “Radio,” has produced a number of sports-themed films (“Summer Catch,” “Hardwood Dreams,” “Varsity Blues”) with his business partner, Brian Robbins.
 
“It’s a great access point,” Tollin said of sports. “I have this enormous bond with my dad and my granddad, until he passed away, through sports. It’s a way of passing on values through generations.”
 
Tollin said he and Gary Smith, who wrote the Sports Illustrated article about Radio on which this film was based, talked about the role of sports in establishing community.
 
“He talks about it being a way for people on the margins to find acceptance and to find community and to find a place of self-respect,” Tollin said.
 
And for Tollin, as for the characters in this inspiring story, those on the margins are more valuable than those in the center usually realize:
 
“Most of us have somebody in our lives who is a Radio sort of figure—who is ‘handicapped’ or challenged—who, if we allow ourselves to open our eyes and open our hearts, can probably teach us a few things.”
 
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
 
Visit the official Web site for “Radio.”