As a combined sports and documentary film nut, any installment of ESPN's brilliant 30 for 30 series is for me a sure fire enjoyable moment.
The latest I watched now streaming on Netflix The Marinovich Project was no exception.
Growing up, one of the articles I most remember from poring over beloved Sports Illustrateds was specifically one about Todd Marinovich and how his dad made him run home next to the car after a bad practice; and how he was "Bred to be a Superstar".
The film uses the whole Marinovich myth as a starting point to debunk the finger pointing and blaming that followed arguably the biggest promise to bust in terms of football quarterbacking. The father has been much maligned, but the truth, as every good documentary always reveals, is much more complex.
The Marinovich Project glosses over some of the worst arrests of the genius quarterback turned acute partier and drug user eventually in the deep pit of addiction, and elevates Marinovich to the level of consummate survivor who has become an artist, with a very nice website (don't hesitate to buy one of his art pieces if you have $199). He's also become a dad.
The filmmakers interview him sitting on a beach, where he appears sort of looking like cyclist Lance Armstrong; they are of the same generation, with piercing eyes and taut demeanor. But Marinovich is someone whose drug use doomed his sports career and dropped him from a very probable "conventional" uber-success to repeated mug shots. He has admitted to his past misdeeds and struggles, unlike Armstrong, the polar opposite, who seemingly used drugs to propel himself and despite the mounting evidence, continues to deny everything.
The drugs of course were different in nature, some to escape, the others to crush the opposition. And while one of them failed drug tests, the other perfected and never failed to game them.
There is something to be said about transparency, and the purity of not reaching other people's definitions of success, and to me Marinovich is much more of a hero than Armstrong ever will be. It is Armstrong who ends up more as the Robo Athlete, and Marinovich as the one rejecting our hero worship society for good reason.
Here's an interview not from the movie but which says a lot as the superstar breeding program was already clearly unraveled. Despite a subpar performance, Marinovich comes across as a very nice guy, which in the end is all that matters.