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SUBJECTS — Sports/Football; U.S./1945 - 1991 & Diversity;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Friendship; Grieving; Sportsmanship;
Age: 10+; MPAA Rating -- G; Drama; 1972; 74 minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com.

Description: This is the true story of the friendship between professional football players Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo, and of Piccolo's death from lung cancer at age 26. Piccolo and Sayers were the first interracial roommates on the Chicago Bears. They competed against each other for the same position on the team. None of this stood in the way of their friendship. The film is based on the book, I Am Third by Gale Sayers and Al Silverman.

Rationale for Using the Movie: Brian's Song illuminates the nature of friendship between men, interracial friendships, courage in the face of injury and disease, and sportsmanship. It thus serves to build character.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students will learn excellent lessons about the above described topics and will exercise research and writing skills using a subject matter that provides easy access to their full attention.

Possible Problems: Minor. Some children may be disturbed by Piccolo's death at the age of 26. Racial epithets such as "nigger" are used in a joking and friendly way.



Rationale and Objectives
Possible Problems
Parenting Points

Using the Movie in Class:
      Introduction to the Movie
      Discussion Questions


Helpful Background

Additional Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Additional Assignments

Other Sections:
      Bridges to Reading
      Links to the Internet
      CCSS Anchor Standards
      Selected Awards & Cast

MOVIE WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students' minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.



Discussion Questions:

After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.

1.  The fact that two men of different races could room together and become friends is a major theme in this film but would have little impact on today's viewers. What does this say about race relations in the United States in the late 1960s, the time of the events described in this movie? Suggested Response: Answers will vary, but essentially they depend upon student's awareness of race relations prior to the advances in American society caused by the Civil Rights Movement. Some might note that in 1966, the year these two men began rooming together, Jim Crow laws were still in effect in many parts of the country.

2.  What is the reason Piccolo helped Sayers recover from his knee injury despite the fact that the injury allowed him to play in Sayer's coveted position? Suggested Response: Piccolo wasn't happy about being promoted to the position of starting halfback "for all the wrong reasons". He helped Sayers recover out of friendship and to prove that he wasn't going to take advantage of another man's adversity. Piccolo's sense of sportsmanship precluded competing against an injured opponent.

3.  What is one of the major ways that Sayers dealt with his grief over the death of Piccolo? Suggested Response: Sayers wrote a book about Piccolo and their friendship. In the book, entitled I am Third, Sayers pays homage to his friend. The book was, in a sense, a way to deal with the death of a loved one.

For additional discussion questions, click here.


Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:

1.  There are many who believe that athletes today are more interested in high salaries than in the sport and that sportsmanship is secondary to income. Write an opinion essay on your beliefs in regards to these issues. You may want to research commentaries by sports writers and social critics to back up the points you make.

2.  Write an informative essay on health issues faced by professional athletes. Piccolo's story is uncommon in sports, but many diseases and injures are issues the athletes must address over their careers. Research, for example, the current studies that show the predominance of brain injuries in football players and the many health issues professional athletes face after they retire. Conclude your essay with a suggestion about what can be done to better protect athletes in the future.

3.  Write a personal reflection on an important friendship in your life that was somehow sundered, either by changing schools, having a friend move away or simply by drifting apart over time. Make the nature of the friendship clear. You may want to give examples of the kinds of activities in which you and your friend engaged and then explain how you felt and what you did about the loss of the friend. Use five ways to show meaning: describe action, include dialogue, reveal thoughts of the characters, use descriptive language, and compare one thing to another.

For additional assignments, click here.


For suggestions about using filmed adaptations of literary works in the ELA classroom, see Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories and Plays.

Much of this discussion derived from DVD Verdict.

Click on the link for a discussion of Segregation and Its Corrosive Effects in the Learning Guide to "A Force More Powerful"

Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

Parenting Points: Brian's Song is not a difficult movie for children to understand, and they are usually clear about the powerful friendship expressed between Sayers and Piccolo. You may want to put the friendship in a historical context or suggest that such friendships were rare and required courage prior to the Civil Rights Movement.


PHOTOGRAPHS, DIAGRAMS AND OTHER VISUALS:   Photographs of Signs Enforcing Racial Discrimination: Documentation by Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information Photographers from the Library of Congress.

Contributors: Thank you to Lori Hille, a teacher at East Middle School, Downey, California, for suggestions incorporated into this Learning Guide.

Last updated August 3, 2010.

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