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STATE OF PLAY Documentary: “Happiness”

By Jef Dinsmore on Nov 22, 2014 to HBO Sports

StateOfPlay_logoOverview: The first new edition of STATE OF PLAY begins with a 35-minute documentary that explores the lives of three former NFL greats, quarterback Brett Favre, running back Tiki Barber and wide receiver Wayne Chrebet, as they transition from leading the lives of American superstars to those of civilians. With the help of experts in the burgeoning science of happiness, the film follows the players’ journeys to find the surprising truths of what made them so happy while in the game and how to find happiness outside of the sport that defined them for so long.

Also interviewed for the film are: former NFL stars Howie Long, Michael Strahan, Ray Guy and Terry Bradshaw; former Bengals and Buccaneers player Damian Vaughn, now a positive psychologist; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, co-founder of the field of positive psychology; Matthew Lieberman, a neuroscientist at UCLA; Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at UC Riverside; Dawn Phillips, Richard Potin and Stevie Ray of Hattiesburg, Miss.; and Amy Chrebet, wife of Wayne Chrebet. Host Peter Berg follows with a roundtable discussion with former New York Giants star and pro football hall of famer Michael Strahan, who now enjoys a successful TV career as a morning talk-show host and weekend NFL studio analyst; former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, who received the Navy Cross and Purple Heart for his actions in June 2005 facing Taliban fighters during Operation Red Wings, and whose story was told in the acclaimed 2013 film “Lone Survivor”; and educator and author Shawn Achor, who is a world renowned researcher in the field of Positive Psychology. STATE OF PLAY: “Happiness” debuted Tuesday, 11.18 at 10:00pm. 

Expectations: After seeing and reviewing the premiere episode, STATE OF PLAY: “Trophy Kids” I was sort of surprised by this next installment. Early announcements for this return of the HBO Sports series only offered the title of the piece and my thoughts started to spin on why ‘happiness’ was an important theme for a sports program. After mulling that over I guessed the documentary might be about why sports in general is needed in society and what happiness fans get out of it. Now that further details have surfaced about the film I now realize the approach the film takes.

We are going to sit in on a report and discussion about the state of mind of retired NFL players and gauge how happy they are or aren’t. Okay, I’ll bite. After all it is only fifty-nine minutes long. Here is a trailer for the four-part series as a whole:


Gut Reaction: I was a bit surprised again as the documentary was set up by host Peter Berg. I first perceived the piece as rather poor taste based on the description of the installment. Again, it looks at how NFL players are forced to readjust their lives after a short stint as pro athletes. My first thought was that it was an unfair examination as there are many people of all walks of life who lose jobs and are forced to strategize what happens next in life. However, right from the beginning this show addresses that this change of lifestyle is not exclusive to football players and that we all may just learn something from these gridiron greats after the final whistle.

StateofPlay_FavreWe get it. Some of these guys can fall hard. They are built up as national heroes; they are juiced with adrenaline; they are celebrated and then after those few years of fame it all ends and the void is hard to fill. Though it was nice to see what was happening to the likes of Brett Favre I can’t say that the documentary portion of this show really held any great impact or caused me to feel sorry for the changes these professional players had to make in their lives. We all have to endure that. 

As for the roundtable portion of this edition of STATE OF PLAY it was interesting, at times confusing and seemed somewhat out of place. The discussion Berg led didn’t seem to correlate too much with the documentary segment. And the researcher’s comments proved a little hard to follow as was Luttrell. All interesting enough but, didn’t really seem to gel well with the STATE OF PLAY format.

In Conclusion: This examination of Happiness could have been a general topic documentary of the subject under Executive Producer of HBO Documentary Films Sheila Nevins. It could have been a more in-depth look at people, especially former NFL players, and how they improve their lives after a major life-changing event. Instead it comes to us under the banner of HBO Sports. It was interesting, but could have been better. Do you agree?   

Next Week: On Tuesday, November 25, the next installment of debuts. It is STATE OF PLAY: Broken. It will feature athletes whose bodies have been broken by the sports they love.  

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