SUBJECTS — Sports/Olympics; World/Jamaica;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Sportsmanship; Redemption; Male Role Model;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Fairness.
AGE: 8+; MPAA Rating — PG for mild language and brief violence;
Comedy; 98 minutes; 1993, Color. Available from Amazon.com.
Bobsledding in Jamaica? They don’t have any snow in Jamaica. This madcap comedy is based on the inspiring story of the bobsled team sent by Jamaica to the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada.
“Cool Runnings” explores themes of perseverance against great odds, cheating, second chances, and developing self-esteem. It will introduce children to the Olympics and the island of Jamaica.
The members of the bobsled team are role models for individuals determined to succeed. The coach is a role model for someone who has cheated but has acknowledged his mistake, seeks a second chance.
MINOR. The term “bad-ass mother” is used on several occasions to refer to what a man should be. There is an undercurrent in the film that some men (acknowledged to be the less mature men) establish their masculinity through fighting. There is one non-graphic bar fight in which two of the characters try to prove themselves. This theme is fairly mild and provides a good basis for a discussion after the movie.
See the sections on what to tell children about the movie — both before and after they watch it. Follow that up with the Quick Discussion Question. Talk to your children about some of the humor used in the film. Be sure they understand why bobsledding is unheard of in Jamaica. Converse with them about how one can make up for mistakes and how one can be a winner even in defeat.
USING IN THE CLASSROOM
Before Watching the Movie:
To help children fully appreciate this film make sure they know the following:
Every four years the best athletes from all over the world gather to compete in the Olympic Games. There are two sets of games, the summer games and the winter games.
Jamaica is an island in the Caribbean which was a British colony until 1962. The Jamaican people are descendants of slaves brought from Africa to work on plantations. They speak English because the plantation managers would not let the slaves keep the languages they brought from Africa and required them to speak only English.
After the Second World War, Germany was divided into two countries, communist East Germany and democratic/capitalist West Germany. For propaganda purposes, the East German government invested heavily in its sports teams. The team that ridiculed the Jamaicans was from East Germany. Germany was reunited into one country in 1991 when the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia ended.
Switzerland is a small mountainous country in the center of Europe. Like the Germans, the Swiss have a reputation for being very good engineers. Most of Switzerland is in the Alps, and the Swiss have excelled at winter sports.
On a map or a globe, show them the locations of Africa, Jamaica, England, Switzerland, former East Germany, and Canada.
After Watching the Movie:
Once the movie is over, tell children the following:
The Jamaican bobsled team finished last in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. Their bobsled crashed due to the inexperience of the driver. However, they caused a media frenzy and inspired people all over the world.
Since 1988, the Jamaican bobsled teams have competed in every Olympics, except for 2006, when their team did not qualify. They swear they’ll be back for the 2010 Olympics. In previous years, some of their teams did very well, beating the U.S. and entries from France and Italy. While the performance of their 2006 team was a disappointment, the Jamaicans are proud that a Jamaican, who competed for Canada, won the Silver Medal in the two-man bobsled competition in 2006.
The factual truth in this movie is that a Jamaican bobsled team competed in the Olympics and inspired the world. The rest is fiction. The idea of a Jamaican bobsled team was first brought up by two Americans. They had noticed that Jamaicans were very strong sprinters and that the sprint at the beginning of a bobsled race is one of the most important parts of the sport. They convinced the Jamaicans to try to qualify for the Olympics. Most of the first team consisted of young men from the military. There is now a Jamaican women’s bobsled team.
There are two kinds of truths in a movie. One can come from facts and the other is found in all good stories: truths about people and their reactions to life situations. This movie has that kind of truth as well.
Move from here to a discussion of the movie. A good way to start is to ask, “Who was your favorite character in the movie?” Guide the discussion to the themes of the film. You can also move from there to the Social-Emotional Learning or Morals-Ethical Emphasis discussion questions of your choice. See below.
QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:
The Jamaican bobsled team had no chance to win. Should they have even tried?
Sure. There’s a lot to life and sports apart from winning. Most people competing in the Olympics know they have very little chance for a medal. They do it for love of the sport, to see how well they can perform against the best, to represent their countries, to travel, and for many other reasons.
1. Who was the most courageous person shown in the movie? Why?
TWM suggests either Derice or Irv. Derice because he would not quit until he competed in the Olympics and Irv because he returned to face the former friends that he had hurt in a situation in which he had disgraced himself.
2. What do you think about the fight in the bar with the East Germans? Was it the right thing to do?
No. Fighting is very seldom the right thing to do. Participants in a fight can get seriously hurt, they can seriously hurt someone else (this frequently feels worse than losing), and they can get arrested. In addition, participants in a fight will often get kicked out of sports competitions and kicked off of sports teams. There are always better ways to settle your differences. The Jamaicans wanted to prove they were real men, even if they weren’t contenders for a medal. However, really mature men would have walked away from the fight and proved themselves by doing well in the race.
3. Do you want to be a bad-ass mother? Why or why not?
No, because it means subscribing to the code that boys must fight to prove their masculinity. Nurturing, reasonable conduct is mature conduct. Fighting usually demonstrates immaturity or the lack of sufficient imagination to figure out another way to resolve differences.
See also the question about cheating under Trustworthiness.
4. An act of redemption is making up for a mistake or for doing something that was wrong by taking some extraordinary action that compensates for the wrong and, to some extent, restores the ethical status, honor, and reputation of the wrongdoer. Who was seeking redemption in this movie?
Irv, the coach.
5. What were the benefits that the coach derived from taking on the team?
He got the opportunity to redeem himself.
6. If someone has cheated once in a sporting event, can he ever be trusted again?
There is no one correct answer. TWM suggests that if a person has apologized, returned all of the ill-gotten gains, tried as much as possible to make up for any injury caused, and has acted ethically since the infraction, he or she could then be trusted. This is especially true if the person has done something extraordinary to redeem him or herself. The coach, in this case, was trying to redeem himself by coaching the Jamaicans.
MALE ROLE MODEL
7. If there is a male role model in this film, which character is it? Name the attributes of this character that make you believe he is a male role model.
Derice is a good candidate for a male role model. He never gives up. He works hard. He will make extraordinary efforts to attain his dream. He is a good leader of his team.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends, and country)
1. What do you think about cheating? Do you play by the rules or get away with as much as you can?
(1) Cheating is dishonest. Who would want to associate with someone who cannot be relied upon to tell the truth when it counts? (2) Cheating involves taking the easy way out when things get tough. Would you want to be friends with someone you can’t rely on when there’s trouble? (3) Cheating violates several rules by which ethical conduct is tested – the rule of universality (would it be good if everyone did it?) and the rule of disclosure (how would I feel if everyone knew what I was doing, including the people I loved?). (4) In sports, cheating means that the cheater cannot win. Even if everyone else believes that the cheater is the winner, the cheater knows that he or she didn’t win because the cheater had an unfair advantage over other contestants. What kind of victory is that? (5) In school, cheating means that eventually the cheater will do poorly or just have to do the work later. For example, most subjects in school build one skill upon another. If the cheater avoids learning the level he or she is on, the cheater will not do well on the levels that follow. For a while, cheaters might be able to get away with this, but eventually, it will catch up to them and they’ll either do poorly or have to learn the stuff anyway. (6) There are severe penalties for getting caught. For a more complete description of how to make an ethical decision, see Principled Decision Making — How to Get the Results We Really Want, Maximize our Strength and Power, and be Proud of our Actions.
(Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don’t take advantage of others; Don’t blame others carelessly)
2. Were the Americans right to be angry at the coach over his cheating years before? Were they right to take out their anger on the team? The Jamaicans hadn’t done anything wrong.
Yes, they had the right to be angry and no, it was not fair to take it out on the team.
BRIDGES TO READING
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
- Interview with Devon ‘Pele’ Harris Jamaica Bobsled Team Member;
- The Jamaican Bobsled Story Continues to Inspire USA Today, February 23, 2006;
- Jamaican Bobsled Team from Everything2.com;
- Let us Join Hands – 20th Olympic Winter Games in Torino By Devon Harris;
- The Jamaican Bobsleigh team;