EXCLUSIVE: Surviving members and relatives of the famed Black Spartans want a movie about the 1966 college football co-champions consigned to the sidelines.
“This letter is directed to various producers, directors, actors and others who we understand are associated with the motion picture Black Spartans, which purports to tell our clients’ stories,” says a correspondence sent Tuesday night to director-writer Ben Cory Jones, producer James Velissaris and his various aliases, as well as actors J. Alphonse Nicholson, Neal McDonough (who also is a producer) and others (read it here). “However, this film is being produced without our clients’ input or approval and in violation of their rights to publicity and privacy and in defamation of their characters.”
“As we and our clients have not seen the full Black Spartans script (and naturally the finished film) we cannot identify with more particularity any defamatory material,” attorney Devin McRae goes on to say on behalf of 1965 and 1966 Michigan State University Football players Gene Washington, Jimmy Raye, the late Bubba Smith, Bob Apisa and their families. “However, we can and have put you on notice that the source material for the film appears unreliable, and that you proceed at your peril – any defamatory content will have been published with actual malice.”
The partner at Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae LLP also noted inconsistencies, misrepresentations and getting it “exactly backward” in pages from the Black Spartans script that Jones has posted on social media.
Black Spartans is based in part on David Claerbaut’s 2018 book Duffy Daugherty: A Man Ahead of His Time. On the field as Civil Rights legislation and protests were transforming America in the 1960s, the Duffy Daugherty-coached Michigan State Spartans were the first fully integrated college football team in the nation. Putting the racists and doubters in their place, the 1965 and 1966 Michigan State won national championships with about 20 Black players on the squads, including captains for the latter team. With legendary QB and future NFL star Raye calling the plays, the 1966 national championship game — a battle of unbeatens against top-ranked Notre Dame — was termed “the Game of the Century” for years afterward. It ended in a 10-10 tie, and the Spartans and Fighting Irish shared the national title.
Jones, Jimmy V (Velissaris) McDonough, Casey Cott, David Brown, Rochelle Claerbaut, Ruve McDonough, Justin Oates-Marable produced the film, with Cory Wharton serving as EP.
Making the stakes of the matter and a looming lawsuit crystal clear, attorney McRae also states in his letter of September 13: “Our clients were already exploited once for their race and talent, we fully expect that a court will not permit it to happen again in Black Spartans.”
Reps for the film’s producers did not respond to request for comment from Deadline today. We will update this story if and when we receive a statement.
The first time feature directorial effort of longtime TV producer and scribe Jones, Black Spartans has Nicholson playing Raye. The movie started filming in and around Atlanta, Georgia on September 12 — as you can see in the Instagram post recently put up by Insecure and Boomerang vet Jones:
Matt Grobar contributed to this report.