Editor’s note: This is the third of a series of columns delving into Netflix’s docuseries ‘Last Chance U,’ which recently released season 4, featuring Independence Community College’s football team and its trials and tribulations through the 2018 season.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s my bleeding heart.
But I feel bad for Bobby Bruce.
The mercurial linebacker/safety featured on both seasons of Last Chance U in Independence was kicked off the Pirates in the second episode of the latest season on Netflix — which was filmed during the 2018 season.
Bruce was clearly caught on film stealing — something — from another person’s room. He went into the room with two others and walked out with a bag he did not have when going into the room.
Honestly, he deserved to be kicked off the team.
But I also can’t help but wonder about what if?
What if Bruce had made a better decision in that moment?
What if someone had been a slightly better mentor?
What if Bruce was not with the two other people caught in the video?
The docuseries shows that Bruce had recently become a first-time father, and he said he had found a new perspective because of that. I believed him, despite another mistake made by Bruce, who also narrowly avoided an armed robbery conviction a year earlier.
Here’s why: Our society fails at-risk kids at an alarming rate, and particular young, black boys and men.
Several studies in recent years have shown that black students — and especially black male students — are disproportionally disciplined in schools, starting as early as preschool — preschool!
That discipline — potentially unwarranted — piles up through the years, and therefore so do suspensions. Of course, suspensions a lot of the time keep students in most desperate need of an education away from school.
It’s an unavoidable consequence sometimes. But it also directly leads to the school-to-prison pipeline, which studies say is the process of pushing at-risk students out of schools and subsequently into prisons. That, also, disproportionally affects black male students.
Like I said before, Bruce had already gotten a second chance at Indy, and a third likely should not have been given. But it still got me thinking about Bruce.
He said he was the first in his family to ever go to college, and, in all likelihood, he won’t ever finish now. What a missed opportunity for him, but perhaps even more of a missed opportunity for our society.
The more first-generation students we can get to graduate college the better. How do we more effectively do that? Of course, lowering costs would be a big step.
But I also think not holding grudges is another.
The show is called “Last Chance U” for a reason. But perhaps there should never be a last chance. We should never give up on students, and particularly those at-risk, first-generation students.
His family’s entire trajectory could have changed for the better — and perhaps it still can.
Bruce played for an Arena League team called the Manatee Neptunes in the spring, and perhaps he can scratch out a football career good enough to support him and his budding family. Perhaps he’ll find his own way.
Or perhaps he won’t, and we’ll all be sitting here thinking, what if?
Sports reporter Levi Burnfin can be emailed at email@example.com.