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Review: Running For His Life - The Lawrence Phillips Story

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A review of the Showtime documentary of the troubled Nebraska Running Back.

Lawrence Phillips Nebraska
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First off, full disclosure, reviewing documentaries isn’t my forte. Most of the writing I do tends to have at least an attempt at humor. But there really isn’t anything funny when looking back at the tragedy of Lawrence Phillips life. The ninety minute Showtime doc chronicles Phillips’ life, from his difficult upbringing in state institutions all the way to his death in a jail cell earlier this year.

Early on in the doc, a reporter who had written often about Lawrence noted that in his exhaustive research he was unable to find even a single photograph of Lawrence as a child. There were so few people in his life who genuinely cared about him that it really isn’t surprising to see what direction his life took, especially when he stopped playing football, the violent sport that ironically seemed to be the healthiest part of his life.

The Nebraska years are focused on heavily, and I found it interesting to see how the Huskers were portrayed. One thing that stuck out to me (as a Husker fan) was that they failed to mention the sellout streak, which to me is the defining indication of how much Nebraskans love the Huskers.

The documentary does play up the criminal behavior of the nineties teams a little bit (not a surprise), but overall I thought it was a fair and accurate assessment of what went on. Coach Osborne is a big part of the Nebraska portion and he made a logical case for his decisions.

Looking back, I think maybe if Nebraska had let Lawrence practice with the team but not play in the games it might have been a more palatable solution for all parties, but it’s always easier to second guess after the fact.

By the time we came to the end, I was reminded a LOT of Mike Tyson - another incredibly talented, incredibly troubled individual who was given countless chances, but couldn’t overcome his flaws.

In the last portion of Coach Osborne’s interview he expresses regret for not being able to do more to help Phillips, saying “there are a lot of Lawrences out there.” And to me, that’s the most tragic thing. Lawrence Phillips was so talented that people found a way to give him chance after chance, but ninety-nine percent of the troubled young people who are disadvantaged like he was often don’t even get that chance.