HBO’s Ballers is Unexpectedly Redeeming Itself by Pursuing Justice Issues

Christopher Benek

Ballers is HBO’s comedy-drama, masculine soap opera that follows the life of Spenser Strasmore (Dwayne Johnson) – a retired football player who works as a financial manager for NFL players. Unexpectedly, this year in its fourth season, the show has made a turn towards television redemption.

Candidly, Ballers has been wholly trash TV. It’s an Entourage-like show – created by the same producer - Stephen Levinson - that keeps the viewers attention by creating likable characters, high drama, and short episodes. One can watch an episode of Ballers and, even though very little happens, you can still walk away without feeling like too much of your life was forfeited.

The acting isn’t great (I don’t think it's meant to be), the plots per show are relatively non-existent, and the characters' ethics are lacking. But, somewhere in the midst of Season 4, the show has found a hint of virtue. That is because it finally started focusing on something that matters in the real world – players' rights.

In previous seasons, the show has danced around issues like mental health and the struggles of being a professional athlete. In Season 4, it has come out against something that any college athlete knows is a true injustice: The failure of college players to get compensated while universities get rich off of them. Ballers has finally started to get political and it is a better show for it.

It seems like HBO has decided to increasingly move towards addressing social ills in its shows in an attempt to bring awareness to justice issues. What is noteworthy in Ballers is that the characters are very flawed humans beings that struggle with vices that many people deal with on a day-to-day basis. I think what ultimately makes the show compelling is that the viewer can empathetically relate to various situations that these fictional individuals find themselves embroiled in.

The world of Ballers is messy just like ours. But in the middle of that conflict and mess, we still see a desire by these characters to work to advance in the world. What the show has come to recognize is that for personal gains to be truly meaningful they often must come through self-sacrifice for others. By fictionally modeling such self-sacrifice – the show has actually started to illustrate virtue for viewers to consider and refine for their own context.

Season 5 of Ballers will debut in 2019.

Reality Changing Observations:

Q1. Do you enjoy when shows tackle (see what I did there?) real life issues or would you prefer that they just entertain you – and why?

Q2. How do you think the TV shows you watch influence you as a person?

Q3. Do you or don’t you think college athletes should get paid and why?