As an avid American football fan readying myself for the 2016 NFL season, I was intrigued by found the recently-released six-episode docu-series Last Chance U.
The series follows the East Mississippi Community College (EMCC) Lions football team during the 2015 season, giving viewers an insight into the lives of several players, assistant coaches, head coach Buddy Stephens and academic adviser Brittany Wagner.
Nestled in the small town of Scooba (population 716), the EMCC football program has been remarkably successful since the arrival of Stephens, winning national championships in 2011, 2013 and 2014. While Last Chance U doesn’t shy away from the team’s recent success and its quest for further glory, the show grabs our attention by focusing on a group of young men of varying backgrounds at a pivotal stage in their lives.
Where some college programs steer clear of footballers with behavioural or academic problems, the Lions have embraced players facing such issues. Undeterred by potential failure, they trust their staff to guide these young men not only towards footballing excellence but also to a degree, as part of a rounded learning experience.
Wagner’s role at EMCC is critical. Entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that the students achieve the grades necessary to graduate, she becomes a central figure in their lives.
Defensive tackle Ronald Ollie lost both parents when he was five and football quickly became a refuge for him—an activity he excelled at and a potential ticket to fame and fortune. Like many on the Lions football team, Ollie is an exceptional footballing talent, but finds the academic side of college life difficult.
For all the work of Buddy Stephens and his coaching staff, the task Wagner plays in guiding and supporting the players to realise their goals is perhaps the most important and endearing role in the series.
In our own lives, there are times when we might play the role of EMCC, whether in our workplaces, social settings or with our children. For Brittany Wagner, this redeeming role didn’t mean affirming poor patterns of behaviour or asking staff for unwarranted exemptions for players. Rather, her role involved demonstrating unconditional love to the players, and motivating and empowering them to achieve.
Second chances are a recurring theme in the Bible. From God’s grace towards David, a multi-offender in different ways, to Jesus offering another chance to notorious tax collector Zacchaeus, we see a pattern of forgiveness and grace.
There will also be times where we are like the footballers, desperately seeking a second chance. Mercifully, our God is a forgiving God—it’s up to us to take the opportunities he gives us.