As evidenced in the film, these attributes, both the good and the bad, may start from the top, but they trickle down through college and even as far back into youth sports, as the final scene in the film suggests that the athletic cycle will always continue and the baby throwing the ball today may be the next great star tomorrow. With such dramatic promises of riches and glory, sports as portrayed in Jerry Maguire are high stakes as well as high impact.
Jerry Maguire tells the story of the title character, a slick and powerful sports super agent, much like the kind that represent only the biggest and most famous athletes. After years of profiting off the athletic success of his clients, who likewise benefit by his talent for negotiation and duplicity, Jerry suffers a crisis of conscience when a child of one of his hockey playing clients innocently asks him a question about his injured father.
This inspires Jerry to write a memo to the office that redefines what not only he is supposed to be doing as an agent, but what the entire office of agents is supposed to be doing. In a complete reversal from what made him a successful and powerful agent, Jerry writes that it the office should take fewer clients and pay closer and better attention to the clients that they have. Of course, this means taking clients seriously when they say they are injured or otherwise have problems that may put their health and well being at risk.
Jerry insists that the athletes represented by the office and him should be treated less as giant moneymakers and more like the simple and fragile human beings they are, with serious responsibilities, families, and the unfortunate reality of always being one late hit, bad wipeout, or hamstring tear from losing their career. While everyone in the office seems to support Jerrys inspired words, it becomes clear that despite his good intentions, there is no practical way to represented athletes, continue making volumes of money, and pay the close attention that the memo suggests.
Jerrys superiors believe that hes losing his mind, even though all he did was have an outbreak of ethics. His newfound morality is met with disdain, as he is fired by his former protege. The firing of Jerry is indicative of the world of professional sports and the machine that moves it. To the people of the office, the athletes they represent are nothing more than huge opportunities to make money. They feel that regardless of what happens to the athlete they represent, there are always more athletes coming up in need of their representation. The athletes are nothing more than a commodity.
When Jerry realizes the dire situation he put himself into, he scrambles to retain his clients, but his calls to the athletes he represents shows the true priorities of the modern sports hero”money. All of the athletes but one choose to stay with the firm than follow Jerry on his crusade. Ironically, the one athlete he managed to retain required Jerry to yell the famous line, Show me the money! The football player, Rod Tidwell, continues to employ Jerry, not because he thinks Jerry will mean big bucks, but because he likes and respects him.
This shows that the two men are basically decent, but possibly made corrupt by the priorities of professional sports. They both spend their time trying to figure out how to make money, keep money, and stay near the top of their profession. As Jerry struggles, even getting bamboozled by his protege, Bob Sugar, who poaches the first pick in the NFL draft from Jerry, he seemingly hits rock bottom and begins to lose his mind. This could be indicative of the moral cesspool of professional sports that either corrupts, makes greedy, or erodes all touch with reality.
In a famous exchange between Jerry and Rod, Jerry explains how difficult it is to get any team to seriously consider paying Rod what he wants, mainly because of his attitude and selfishness. Rod spews his stats and his value and Jerry asks him if playing football has always been about money with him. It almost appears as if it has been for Rod, who insists Jerry just do his job and get him the most money possible. However, Rod also lets Jerry know his true goal, which is to achieve the kwan, which is a combination of social, familial, and financial wealth.
The idealism of the movie prevents the viewer from blaming either Jerry or Rod for being concerned with money only, because it is an unspoken rule of sports that it is all about money. Jerry and Rod are merely playing a game that they did not start, and they start behind and spend the rest of the movie trying to catch up. There are many ethical issues throughout the movie that make it applicable to real life. Jerry is initially faced with the ethical dilemma whether he continue to use athletes to pad his bank account and care little about what happens to them when they stop making money.
He knows that the deserve to be treated better, like humans, not commodities, but he also knows that freely speaking of such will cost him his job, and it does. Another ethical failure is that of agent Bob Sugar, who lies, cheats, and steals his way to success. He is the stereotypical sports agent, smarmy, duplicitous, and always working. He abandons all semblance of ethics when he poaches top quarterback, Cush, who explains to the heartbroken Jerry, I just want to play football.
This sequence also shows how many times, the young athletes who all of the sudden are having millions thrown at them are often ignorant to the many intricacies of professional sports, and this also applies to their families. And, as Jerry continues to follow his heart, with limited success, he eventually becomes an ethical man. Sleeping with his assistant Dorothy, he marries, and then falls in love with her. It is almost as if he lives his life backwards once he switches from a smarmy agent to an ethical man.
However, such confusion of character runs throughout the movie, as Jerrys ethical evolution seems often only out of desperation. Jerry is also faced with an ethical dilemma when negotiating Rods contract. When they fail to receive the offer they were looking for, Jerry reluctantly advise Rod not to accept what is offered. This is significant because there is a large chance that Rod will get hurt and be unable to play ever again. One of the key things that Jerry Maguire teaches the lay viewer is that sports are far, far more than just competition or entertainment.
Sports are a massive business that takes in billions of dollars a year. And, while players may possess a certain level of greed and competitiveness, it is often their agent that is the truly ruthless competitor that will never admit nor accept defeat. It almost seems that within sports it is less about winning the championships and more about which franchise makes the most money. Though Jerry and Rod are both decent men, they are each flawed and corruptible. However, they do manage to redeem each other, which is one of the few things about the movie that makes it often too fantastical.
The harsh reality of the sporting world is countered with the friendly love and concern that exists amongst the main characters. Even at the end, after Rods big moment, he and Jerry hug and another player asks his agent, Bob Sugar, why they fail to have a similar relationship. The idea that Jerry and Rod became more than just agent and client seems very much like a Hollywood creation in essence to make the audience members feel good. However, instinct tells that this idealism is most likely absent from the machine that drives sports on.
Jerry Maguire details the emotional breakdown, existential dilemma, and reclamation of ethics by the title character. Jerry begins the movie with little concern for ethical issues, but spends the entire movie trying to attain the good ethics he sees absent from himself and his profession. The movie portrays the people within sports as basically good, from the college level to the professional level, but it portrays the industry of sports as unethical, greedy, and something that must be taken with a grain of salt if one is to negotiate the world successfully.
The thing that sticks out the most about the film is that fair play does not exist behind the scenes of sports, as agents and marketers do whatever they must to maximize profits at the athletes expense, though most of the time, the athlete is more than happy to be exploited, as long as there continues to be a hefty payday. In the end, the movie shows that idealism within a corrupted sporting system can still sometimes pay off, though not easily.
Jerry Maguire. Dir. Cameron Crow. Perf. Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding, Jr. Hollywood: Columbia TriStar, 1996.