Sports & Chill: the Best Sports Documentaries to Watch While You’re Stuck Inside

Usually, if you’re home sick, there’s some kind of sporting event to watch to take your mind off of how you’re feeling. But we’re in uncharted territory right now: we’re all stuck inside for the foreseeable future, hopefully healthy, but without sporting events to keep us company during these long days and nights.

There’s never been a time quite like this. Television was still decades away from being invented when the 1918 influenza pandemic hit, and thanks in part to President Roosevelt, baseball was still played during World War II. This is, pardon the pun, a brand new ballgame, or lack thereof. And with The Last Dance taking its final bow last night, the sports tank feels emptier than ever.

So to help us all distract our way through this time, here’s an alphabetized list compiled with the help of my faithful Twitter followers, of the best sports documentaries to watch (and where to watch them) while we wait and pray for life and sports to return!

Originally, this was going to be one master list. But upon realizing just how vast the sports cinematic universe is, I decided to divvy it up into categories. Don’t miss the first segment, family films!

American Masters: Ted Williams

This 54-minute PBS documentary on the Teddy Ballgame is a must-watch for any history-loving Red Sox fan, or anyone who wants to witness (or relive) the career of the greatest hitter in the history of the game (don’t @ me.)

Watch it on: Netflix, PBS (Membership required)

Baseball by Ken Burns

This is the end-all-be-all of baseball docs, and Ken Burns has graciously gotten PBS to make it free for everyone during the coronavirus shutdown. With 11 episodes of about 2 hours each, this one will last you a while. Or at least almost a full day and night.

Watch it on: Amazon (included with Prime), PBS

Before the West Coast: a Sports Civil Rights Story

The story of an all-black high school’s football team facing immense racism playing in the newly-integrated Louisiana football league in 1967.

Watch it on: Amazon

Bethany Hamilton Unstoppable

A new documentary about Bethany Hamilton, the surfer who lost her arm surfing as a teen, and persevered to become a pro.

Watch it on: Amazon, Google Play, Netflix, Vudu, YouTube

Boston

Spring in Boston without the Boston Marathon just didn’t feel like spring. Immerse yourself in the history of this race, which has been run in Boston for over 120 years. Also, Matt Damon is in it, because what would a Boston film be without one of the most famous Bostonians of all time?

Watch it on: Amazon

Burn The Ships

A documentary about women’s pro softball’s fight to survive. These women are incredibly passionate, and deserve your time.

Watch it on: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Tubi, Vudu, YouTube

Dare To Dream

This doc about the emergence of the US Women’s National Team as a dominant force on the global stage is absolutely thrilling. It tracks the team from the obscurity of the 1980s all the way to the 2004 Olympics, starring superstars Brandi Chastain and Mia Hamm.

Watch it on: YouTube (Part 1, 2, 3)

For the Fun of the Game

For my fellow minor league advocates and fans: this is the story of the upstart St. Paul Saints, one of the most successful minor league teams of all time. It’s also got Bill Murray and Saints owner Mike Veeck, son of legendary MLB team owner Bill Veeck, who was the first American League team owner to integrate a team when he signed Larry Doby to the Cleveland Indians a few months after Jackie Robinson made his debut in 1947.

Watch it on: Amazon

Four Days in October

You knew this was coming! There are so many ESPN 30 for 30s worth watching, but I have to give a shoutout to my personal favorite, chronicling the last four games of the 2004 ALCS, when the Red Sox made the greatest comeback in sports history.

Watch: Amazon, Google Play, YouTube

Hitler’s Olympics

With the 2020 Olympics postponed, look back on the 1936 Berlin Olympics in this 44-minute documentary about the games in Hitler’s pre-war Germany.

Watch it on: Netflix

Hoop Dreams

Shot over the course of five years, Hoop Dreams was originally supposed to be a 30-minute short on PBS, but ended up becoming a 2+ hour film and the second documentary ever to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Film Editing. It’s a story about two black teenagers recruited to attend a predominantly-white high school with a renowned basketball program. On top of the grueling athletic trials, the boys must commute over an hour to a new school and deal with acclimating there.

Watch it on: Amazon, Google Play, HBO, Hulu, iTunes, YouTube

Icarus

A sports documentary list without a doping scandal documentary just wouldn’t be an accurate list. Unfortunately, it’s like a PB&J sandwich without the jelly: dry.
This film explores doping in cycling and the uncovering of an enormous international doping scandal.

Watch it on: Netflix

Iverson

You guessed it… this is a documentary about Allen Iverson’s life and basketball career. Fun fact: it’s directed by a woman, Zatella Beatty!

Watch it on: Netflix

Jackie Robinson: A Ken Burns Film

Yes, Ken Burns is on here twice. The man knows his way around a good baseball docuseries. This one is only two parts, but he does an excellent job of telling the story of one of the most iconic faces in the history of sports.

Watch it on: Amazon, iTunes

Jose Canseco: The Truth Hurts

Before he was one of the oddest characters on Twitter, Jose Canseco was one of the biggest names in baseball, first because of his bat, and later, because of his mouth. This documentary is a candid look at one of the hardest falls in sports history.

Watch it on: Amazon

Kareem: Minority Of One

This HBO Sports documentary is one of my favorite things I’ve ever watched. Kareem is such a fascinating figure, and the way it takes you through his life to the present is a truly wonderful, emotional journey.

Watch it on: Amazon (HBO subscription required), HBO Go, HBO Now, Hulu

No No: A Dockumentary

Yes, I spelled that right. This doc is all about Dock, the legendary Pirates pitcher and the time he threw a no-hitter while high on LSD. And people say baseball is boring.

Watch it on: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Tubi, Vudu, YouTube

One Day In September

The 1972 Munich Olympics were called the ‘Olympics of Peace and Joy,’ but then the Palestinian extremist group Black September took 11 Israeli athletes hostage in the Olympic Village.

Watch it on: Amazon, Vudu

Reel Baseball: Baseball’s Golden Era

Shorter and very different from Ken Burns’ Baseball, this documentary focuses on baseball in movie newsreels, which was how many American’s saw some of the greatest moments in baseball history. And it’s narrated by the legendary Joe Garagiola.

Watch it on: Amazon

Running For Good

Watch world record marathon runner Fiona Oakes attempt the Marathon Des Sables. Known as the “toughest footrace on earth,” it’s a casual 250km race through the Sahara Desert. I’ll save you the trouble of converting those kilometers; that’s 155.34 miles.

Watch it on: Amazon

Soccer In The City

It might not seem like it in America, but soccer is the world’s most popular sport. This documentary examines the impact soccer has on inner-city youth in America, and features former USMNT captain Claudio Reyna and Women’s World Cup champion and gold medalist Brandi Chastain.

Watch it on: Amazon

Spirit of the Marathon

Like the Boston documentary listed earlier, this film is about an iconic city marathon as well, only it’s the one run in Chicago. Unlike the more historical Boston, this documentary focuses more on six very different runners as they prepare for the race.

Watch it on: Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube

The Battered Bastards of Baseball

Did you know that Portland used to have a minor league baseball team? The Portland Mavericks were owned by actor Bing Russell, and his son, actor Kurt Russell, played and worked for the team. I loved this Netflix documentary, and that seems to be a universal sentiment, since it has the rare distinction of receiving a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes!

Watch it on: Netflix

The Carter Effect

With his retirement season cut short, look back on Vince Carter’s legendary career in this hourlong documentary about his impact on pop culture and basketball.

Watch it on: Amazon, Netflix

The Last Gold

This 2016 documentary takes viewers back to the days of the USSR, with the world watching dumbfounded cheating overtook the female swimmers of the Olympics.

Watch it on: Amazon, iTunes

The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg

Baseball’s first Jewish star, Hank Greenberg became an unlikely American hero in a time when global antisemitism was on the rise.

Watch it on: DVD

This Old Cub

The story of Ron Santo, the first player in MLB history to play with Type One Juvenile Diabetes will likely have you in tears. A player who won 5 consecutive Gold Gloves and was a 9-time All-Star in his 15-year career, beloved by his fans, Santo played without disclosing his Diabetes because he wanted to prove he could play with it, not in spite of it.
Also, famed Chicago fan Bill Murray is in this one, too.

Watch it on: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

9 Innings From Ground Zero

After September 11, 2001, baseball took on a different meaning in New York, and across America.

Watch it on: DVD, YouTube

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One thought on “Sports & Chill: the Best Sports Documentaries to Watch While You’re Stuck Inside

  1. I am for everyone of these Documentaries, most of them I have watched. But, I have been enjoying games from years ago tremendously. Great, great stuff as usual.

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