Netflix sports docuseries packs a punch

Ali Smith, Arts & Leisure Editor

As sports fans, it’s easy to overlook the behind-the-scenes of games and focus on the magic the players create when they play. The truth is sometimes, it’s anything but magical behind the scenes.  

The five-part Netflix original docuseries “Untold” sheds light on sports scandals and looks at them and the stars they involve from an investigative lens. It exposes the extent that fame and money play into what should be simple games.  

The docuseries tells five strikingly different stories from sports history and investigates not only the sequence of events of the scandals, but also the motives behind them. While it certainly appeals to avid sports fans, it will also suck in those who aren’t particularly interested in sports. 

Netflix released one standalone episode per week, which is out of the ordinary for a streaming platform. Even though each episode is like a full-length, in-depth documentary, I found myself craving more after the completion of each installment.  

The fourth episode, “Operation Flagrant Foul,” might be the best. It chronicles the story of NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who served time for betting on and fixing games that he officiated. The scandal was a catalyst for a media frenzy, which sent the NBA into a panic. Even now, after 15 years, the story is still as scandalous as it was when it first happened.  

It is said that as a good referee, no one will know your name. Now, Tim Donaghy’s name is widely known in the world of sports. And for the for the first time, we get Donaghy’s story firsthand.  

While Donaghy’s perspective is essential to the integrity of the story it is not the most entertaining. James Battista and Thomas Martino bring mob ties, which significantly complicate the story. 

The NBA portrayed Tim Donaghy as the black sheep – an outlier who committed a rare and unspeakable crime, and deservedly paid the price.  

However, “Operation Flagrant Foul” begs the question: “Is this the whole story?” The episode makes no case for Donaghy’s innocence, with a plethora of interviews from all involved parties that confirm his guilt. The viewer can’t help but wonder what else was going on in the NBA during Donaghy’s time as an official.  

The NBA made multiple statements within the documentary denying all claims against them, but when juxtaposed with other sources, these statements only help paint the picture of the NBA’s guilt.  

That’s the most fascinating part of the story – that the game sports fans find so magical might not be so magical after all. That the league that’s supposed to foster fair and honest competition might not be fair and honest at all. And that the factors that make star athletes stars – athleticism, grit and talent – may not secure stardom. 


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