As Oscars approach, an honest look at beloved sports movies’ glaring plot holes

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Only a handful of sports movies have ever been crowned Best Picture at the Oscars, but there are countless films that have earned undying love from viewers — sports fans or not.

The Academy didn’t recognize the brilliance in all of them. And, yes, some have glaring plot holes.

With respect (and the Oscars returning Sunday), it’s time to examine some of the most egregious storytelling flaws in some of the most beloved, most discussed sports movies ever.

How were these not addressed?

(Author’s note: This list was made with acceptance of supernatural happenings as part of a plot, but in the cases where these do occur, we mercilessly examined the characters’ reaction to said supernatural happenings.)

‘Teen Wolf’ (1985)

I have never seen the MTV television series that debuted in 2011, but I assume basketball plays little to no role. Basketball is the central plot driver for the iconic ’80s movie starring Michael J. Fox.

But where is the government? Just like another iconic ’80s movie, “ET,” the government would have snatched up Teen Wolf in seconds. He’d be in a windowless van headed to Washington, D.C., a day after he transformed at his high school. Scott Howard, the film’s protagonist, learns of his family’s werewolf curse early in the movie as he struggles with his own transition, but if werewolves were indeed as prominent as the film boldly suggests, the government would know. And he wouldn’t be allowed to flaunt his abilities. (Compare how the parents from “The Incredibles”  handle Dash’s super speed on the track team.) Society couldn’t handle the knowledge that a superhuman species walked among them. There would be anarchy.

If the government were not aware of the werewolves populating society, Scott would be unconscious on an examination table less than 24 hours after he outs himself as a wolf in the middle of a game to the stunned silence of onlookers.

More importantly, it’s outrageous that the villain Mick (Mark Arnold) is allowed to stand underneath the goal during the championship-clinching free throws in the final scene. Viewers would appreciate at least a basic reflection of basketball rules.

A part of me still hears “Win in the End” in my head whenever any basketball team is mounting a comeback. But the coach (Jay Tarses plays Coach Finstock) has got to make sure Scott is better at getting back on defense instead of jumping into his teammates’ arms after a score while giving up a layup on the other end in a tight game with two minutes left.

‘Little Big League’ (1994) and ‘Rookie of the Year’ (1993)

The success of these movies is simple: Both brought childhood dreams to life. What if I could coach or play for my favorite team when I was still a kid? Also, the protagonists look strikingly similar.

The proximity and similarity of these movies means lumping them together, and though I can pick nits with the likelihood a pre-pubescent kid could effectively manage a baseball team, there’s no glaring hole there even if the premise is far-fetched.

But “Rookie of the Year?” Yes, it is medically impossible for a broken arm to heal in such a way to allow a different pre-pubescent kid to throw the ball more than 100 miles per hour, but I’ll generously let that central tenet of the film pass out of principle.

I consulted The Athletic’s MLB senior writer Andy McCollough, who confirmed my suspicions: Henry Rowengartner (Thomas Ian Nichols) would not be eligible to go from middle school directly to the Cubs’ roster. There are no age minimums in the MLB’s collective bargaining agreement (a 15-year-old named Joe Nuxhall pitched for the Cincinnati Reds in 1944 because World War II depleted MLB rosters), but as an American amateur, he would have to enter the draft. The Cubs couldn’t just claim him because he lives in Chicago and loves the team.

Also, nobody in the league raises a stink at the Cubs suddenly suiting up an American who throws faster than anybody else in baseball? This would be a league-wide controversy, and there’s no way he’d be allowed on the roster.

‘Air Bud’ (1997)

We do not acknowledge the existence of the increasingly silly “Air Bud” sequels, so this note is solely about the basketball-based original.

“Ain’t no rules say the dog can’t play basketball” is the seminal line from an official in the movie. This is true. But even provided that Buddy, a well-trained golden retriever, can’t create his own shot under the best of circumstances, the film barely even addresses how he’s accounted for on the defensive end. Buddy does nab a couple of steals, but one of them is clearly a foul. The official swallows his whistle, presumably because he’s still astounded to be officiating a game in which a dog is participating.

Do you hide him in the middle of a 2-3 zone? Considering he’s not a bipedal animal, he’s going to offer little to no rim protection even if that’s the case.

And I have a golden retriever: You’re going to tell me opposing crowds couldn’t distract him on either side of the floor with treats or squeaky stuffed animals? There ain’t no rules against that, either. Trust me, I checked.

It’s outrageous the other teams in the league allowed Buddy to be an asset that fueled a title run.

‘Brink!’ (1998)

On its face, the message of “Brink!” holds weight: Do what you love, don’t be motivated by money.

But pressing on that message in the course of the film — which I learned is based on the 1865 novel “The Silver Skates” by Mary Mapes Dodge — are some dangerous themes.

Andy “Brink” Brinker (Erik von Detten) and his friends embrace the concept of “soul skating” and won’t shut up about it. They turn down their noses at Team X-Bladz, whose inline skaters are sponsored and in a capitalist society embrace the revolutionary idea of being paid for their talents on the halfpipe.

X-Bladz, though populated with jerks I do not want to be friends with, at least make it clear the members are unlikable. Brink’s friends? His fellow “soul skaters?” They’re the real villains.

Andy’s father suffers an injury and is on disability, putting his family in dire straits financially, so Andy gets an after-school job and secretly agrees to skate for X-Bladz. The first red flag is he feels the need to hide this from his super-judgy friends. Then, when they find out what he’s done, they disown him and freeze him out.


At the end of the movie, the lesson Brink learns is to once again pass on earning money that could help his family so that he can skate with his friends for free. In retrospect, I had to dig around to make sure this film was not NCAA propaganda.

‘Happy Gilmore’ (1996)

I’ve seen this movie more times than I can count, mostly at sleepovers with friends growing up. It was a staple. I won’t quibble with Happy’s ability to hit 400-yard drives.

But the final scene? Happy (Adam Sandler) is hit by a car driven by a crazed fan of Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald), causing a broadcast tower to collapse on the 18th green of the Tour Championship and create a giant obstruction between Happy’s ball and the cup.

“He has to play the ball as it lies,” cries an incredulous McGavin, spying an opportunity to capture the gold jacket that’s eluded him. Tour commissioner Doug Thompson (Dennis Dugan) kowtows to McGavin, saying he’s right.

No. Simply no.

Tournament officials could have cleared the tower off the green, and the rules of golf clearly state that if an “abnormal course condition” affects a player, he’s entitled to relief if he elects. Gilmore could play the legendary final shot, but most likely, he could seek relief on the opposite side of the tower and have a much easier putt. At the very least, he would have a clear path to the hole.

But of course, doing so would undermine the character development earlier in the film and Happy’s lessons on the mini golf course from Derick “Chubbs” Peterson (Carl Weathers), whose pro career was tragically cut short when an alligator bit off his hand. Chubbs, who died earlier in the film when Happy presented him with the head of the gator who bit off his hand, discovered and developed Happy’s skills.

If Gilmore had taken relief, Chubbs would have died in vain. But real life doesn’t operate by the rules of storylines. He should have/would have taken relief from the tower and made the putt with his custom-made Odyssey hockey stick putter to clinch the title.

‘D2: The Mighty Ducks’ (1994)

Is it possible a ragtag bunch of elementary-schoolers with no hockey experience could end up representing their country just a couple of years later? I’ll allow it. Development in sports happens fast at that age.

I’ll even allow for the possibility of a bustling street hockey scene in Los Angeles that serves as a boon to Team USA’s chances at capturing gold at the Junior Goodwill Games. Maybe it’s even possible that one of the street hockey players, Russ Tyler — played by pre-“All That” Kenan Thompson — goes from heckler to roster member mid-tournament. I’ll admit I don’t know the eligibility rules of that now-defunct event. I won’t even question the dubious strategic effectiveness of the Flying V, which becomes the Ducks’ signature.

But I draw the line that a role player in Russ Tyler could disguise himself as a goalie, inexplicably unmask himself mid-play late in a game, be given a new stick and unleash a signature “knucklepuck” from the other side of the ice to score in the final seconds of the championship game and force overtime.

It’s simply impossible in a movie that rarely asks its viewers to suspend reality in any other portion of the titular hockey trilogy.

‘Double Teamed’ (2002)

This movie is not on the short list of the best the Disney Channel produced, but it did give us the single-most absurd basketball scene in movie history. Bending the rules of space and time don’t even begin to describe the abomination of the movie’s climatic scene.

‘Juwanna Mann’ (2002)

In 2002, this was not an overtly political film. It was mostly silly. Through the lens of some of the conversation around sports in 2024, a player banned from the NBA who disguises himself and joins a WNBA team would be the most political and controversial film in years. The thinkpieces for what it meant would be endless.

But I have no interest in unpacking that particular topic here. This movie expects viewers, in the media climate of 2002, to accept that a dominant player no one had ever heard of would show up and dominate in the WNBA, and no one would notice or look into his nonexistent background? And he’d be able to fool his front office, his teammates and fans, and only be found out when he dunked and his wig fell off?

The entire premise is insulting to its audience.

‘Above The Rim’ (1994)

This is the most underrated movie on the list, but we need to discuss the entire character of Thomas “Shep” Sheppard. He illustrates the failure of a community to hold up its members.

The actor Leon plays Shep, a local legend on the basketball court. However, after blaming himself for the absurd death of his friend Nutso, Shep spends his nights playing basketball by himself — without a ball — and working as a security guard at the local high school.

He never pursued college ball or higher education and let his life wither away after Nutso’s death. No one could get him in counseling?

Earlier in the film, he dominates a top-tier recruit who wants to play for Georgetown — all while wearing a long coat. Shep might be the best two-way player in the world.

In the final game of a local streetball tournament, Shep plays publicly for the first time since Nutso’s death and, wearing corduroys and a long-sleeve shirt, unleashes the wettest jumper in movie history. He never misses and gets a crucial steal to set up a game-winning alley-oop while a furious Birdie — his younger brother, played by Tupac Shakur — can only fume on the sidelines as coach of the opposing team.

They couldn’t get him some shorts and a T-shirt? And the community let a guy with that much potential on the court and in his mind do nothing with it?

Shep is a complex character, but watching him in action and watching how he navigates the world makes me furious at his unfulfilled potential. Nutso would have wanted better for him.

(Photo of Carl Weathers and Adam Sandler in a scene from “Happy Gilmore”: Universal / Getty Images)

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