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Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream, by H.G. Bissinger. Specifically, it will discuss the philosophical, psychological, social, and ethical views from the book, in regards to life, sports, coaching, and the students/players. Football in Odessa is the only reason most people live, and "Friday Night Lights" vividly shows the petty small town bigotry, small mindedness, and mentalities that create a culture out of football, and create life or death drama over winning or losing.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
Friday Night Lights" is the story of Odessa, a small town in Texas, and the importance high school football plays in the community. The author writes about the town, "You drive into Odessa the first time and become immersed in a land so vast, so relentless, that something swells up inside, something that makes you feel powerless and insignificant" (Bissinger xi). Clearly, this is not just a book about football; it is a book about what football does to a community, and how it affects the community on every level, from economic to philosophical. Football is more than a game here; it is a religion, which draws up to 20,000 fans to a Friday night match. The author continues,
It became apparent that this was a town where high school football went to the very core of life. From the glimpses of the Southside and the FOR SALE signs and the unwanted machinery filling up the yards of Highway 80, it also became apparent that this was a town with many other currents running through it as well (Bissinger xii).
This is a story of a town, a people, and their love of their high school football team, the Permian Panthers. However, it is really the story of an obsession that has taken over a town and could ultimately ruin it. The obsession with a game is robbing their children of a real education, robbing the adults of ever developing any real society other than football, and robbing the town of its soul and humanity. People only care about winning, and when the team loses, as they ultimately must, the entire town will become a failure, and will have nothing at all to fall back on.
The book introduces and follows several of the Permian players throughout the 1988 football season. It also introduces their parents, the coach, and many of the adults in the town who seem to live their lives vicariously through the lives of the young men playing on the football field. Odessa is economically depressed, and for many, the Friday night games are only highlight in a long and hopeless week. Some of the players see football as a way to get out of Odessa, the town with no future, and some of them simply see football as the culminating event in their lives. And some just played "because," as player Brian Chavez explains, "I played because I like it,' he once said. 'Others played because it was Permian football. It was their ticket to popularity. It was just a game to me, a high school game'" (Bissinger 13).
Psychologically, the people of Odessa seem not only extremely simple minded, they obsess over the games as if they were life and death. One prominent businessman says, "Life really wouldn't be worth livin' if you didn't have a high school football team to support'" (Bissinger 20). It would be funny if it were not so sad. These people, even those who are happy and successful, seem to have nothing else in their lives but these Friday night games. What causes them to lead such empty and superficial lives that football is the only entertainment? Admittedly, Odessa is a "wretched" place to live, and there seems to be little else to do there to keep society interested and involved.
Socially, if you do not support the football team, you might as well be a leper. "Virtually every lawyer, doctor, insurance firm, car dealer, restaurant, and oil field supply business in town had taken out an ad, both as a show of support for Permian football and, perhaps, as a form of protection" (Bissinger 40). Not only do these people seem to have nothing else that matters in their lives, they do not approve of anyone who does.
To be a coach in Odessa is probably the most difficult job there is, for the fans are behind you when you win, but can turn with startling speed when you lose. When Gary Gaines and the team lose a pivotal game to Lee, Gaines returns home to find "For Sale" signs dotting his front lawn:
When he went home late that night, several FOR SALE signs had been punched into his lawn, a not-so-subtle hint that maybe it would be best for everyone if he just got the hell out of town. He took them and dumped them in the garage along with the other ones he had already collected. He wasn't surprised by them (Bissinger 20).
Clearly, Odessa and her people do not have a sense of humor about losing. What does this say about them as a society? It says they really do not have any interests or any sense of right and wrong. If they cannot accept losing or defeat, what kind of morals are they passing along to their children? How are they preparing them for "real" life, when winning is not always the only option, and in fact, rarely is the option? These people are doing themselves and their children a great and long-lasting disservice, and someday, when there is no more football, this society will have nothing to keep it interested. It says something about an entire culture which could become so maniacally obsessed with a game, and it says something about the psychology of the people themselves, that they are such losers that they have nothing else in life that interests them but a Friday night game. It also says that to coach in Odessa can never be a positive situation, for every team will lose eventually. If the only thing keeping a coach's place in the society of Odessa is winning, then his hold is precarious at best. It is clear that who the man is does not matter at all, and so coaching at Odessa is ultimately dehumanizing. Gary Gaines could be a saint, and the people of Odessa would ostracize him if the team lost. He has no chance to redeem himself, except by winning. What a horrible commentary on the town, the people, and their "dreams."
Obviously there is a philosophy of football in Odessa, but philosophically, this fanaticism over the game leaves many athletes high and dry after they graduate from high school. There is something morally and ethically wrong with a culture that holds football up on such a high pedestal, at the expense of everything else in a student's life. While some of the players are good students too, many of them are not, and they skate through high school because they play on the team. Boobie, a star linebacker for the team is a perfect example.
His schedule for the fall semester of his senior year at Permian included algebra I, a course that many Permian students took as freshmen and some took in eighth grade; biology I, a course that most Permian students took as sophomores; and correlated language arts IV, a course for students at least two years behind their grade level in reading and writing skills. Boobie was on a schedule that would give him the required course credits to graduate from Permian. But there was no way he could fulfill the requirements of the NCAA for the number of courses needed to qualify for a nonrestrictive scholarship (Bissinger 65).
Boobie's only goal in life was to sometime play in the pros, but when his knee is injured, he not only cannot play football, he cannot go to college, because he is no longer a high ticket football player. With his academic skills, he has nothing to fall back on. Whether they want to admit or not, Odessa is letting their young men down when they put so much emphasis on a game, rather than on the rest of their lives. Morally, it is reprehensible, but philosophically, it is even worse, as these adults, who should know better, are allowing their own vicarious need for excitement to ruin the lives of their children, and succeeding generations. This is not only a moral and philosophical failure, it is completely unethical. Even the teachers participate in it - moving students along so they can continue to play, and even allowing players not to attend classes during game days and practices. There is another ethics problem in Odessa, and that is one of race. Black and white play together on the team, but the coaches are openly bigoted, referring to the black players as "niggers," and the people of Odessa were not bothered at all. "Instead, as several in Odessa explained it,…[continue]
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