TV Review – ESPN+’s “Why Not Us” is a Passionate Look at Historically Black College Athletics

ESPN+ has a wide variety of programming that takes sports fans behind the scenes and into the worlds of their favorite athletes and teams. Whether it’s football, basketball, baseball or any other sport, the idea is typically the same. Why Not Us puts a spin on that typical formula by focusing on athletes at the Historically Black College (HBCU) of North Carolina Central University.

This new series follows coach LeVelle Moton and the NCCU men’s basketball team during the 2020-2021 college basketball season. Moton has done a lot since taking over at NCCU in 2009 to build up a respectable program and become a benchmark in basketball for all HBCUs.

At the opening of this first episode, executive producer and NBA superstar Chris Paul shares a message about the history of HBCUs and their importance. He introduces the audience to Moton and lays out the premise of the show. It’s a helpful introduction, even if Paul is clearly reading from a script as he delivers it. Luckily, the important topic of conversation far outweighs his delivery.

At its core, this series isn’t really so different from those aforementioned series that look at the preparation and hard work that goes into full season for any sport, either college of professional. And while the concept is narrowed to focus on an HBCU, the thing that really sets it apart is the passion of Coach Moton. Being a graduate of an HBCU himself, Moton speaks to the importance of helping these young men to gain confidence and find success, whether it be on the court or off in the real world.

It quickly becomes nearly impossible not to root for Moton and his team as their passion almost immediately shines through. Ironically, most of this first episode is spent on Moton trying to teach his players that they will need to sacrifice and work had to reach the goals they’ve set for themselves, but as we meet the players themselves, it’s clear they share that same passion.

Aside from Moton’s desire to bring a level of respect to the basketball programs of HBCUs though, that topic doesn’t change much about how this series operates. In the end, it’s still about a group of talented young men and their leader who is trying to help them to succeed. It’s the same story in hundreds of other programs, only this one is being overlooked because it is an HBCU.

Still, Why Not Us provides sports fans with the familiar look inside practice and those inspirational scenes you would typically only get in a sports movie. We get to see the team struggle through drills as Moton pushes them to their limits to prepare them for the start of the season. He might as well be Herb Brooks blowing his whistle and calling out “again.”

The only downside to this new series is its timing. It’s hard to buy into these inspirational stories about these players and this program when the season has already been going on for months. Hearing about how Moton wants to put this school on the map and the players want to achieve great things this year is undercut when you know the team is struggling. In fact, even the question “why not us?” is answered by their current 4-5 record. It would have been much easier to get excited about this series if we had seen this first episode before the season began.

Why Not Us is an entertaining look at an underdog story in the world of sports, but it’s also much more. It’s a look at a program that is overlooked simply for the fact that it is an HBCU and a coach that hopes to make that program shock the world. Unfortunately, that scenario seemed much more likely a few months ago and is a much tougher sell now. Still, it is certainly worth a watch for the message it brings to the table.

You can watch Why Not Us on ESPN+ now.

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Mike Mack
Mack is the Editorial Director for Marvel and ESPN content and he has covered comic cons, theme park events, video game showcases and other fun events. He is a fan of theme parks, sports, movies, Marvel Comics and is a self-proclaimed "nerd."