There are few things that I see on television that really get to me.
I know what TV is about: entertainment money.
Networks need it to survive, just like all the rest of us. Producers know that. Everyone involved in the process of creating a ratings worthy TV shows know that.
Viewers, inherently, know that too.
Everyone who has ever watched a reality show for more than just two seconds realizes that TV reality is not the exact same thing as reality reality.
You know, mostly.
The thing about it is that as viewers, sometimes we forget. That’s a luxury we have while we sit on our couches and laugh or cry or laugh-cry in our jammie pants.
We forget that things like editing and the creative process play a role in the creation of a television show.
We forget that the people involved in the process (from the “talent” to the network) have an agenda, good, bad, or otherwise, to promote. That there is an angle. A story theme. A something that the viewer is expected to take from the hour or hours they devoted to watching the thing in the first place.
And, we forget that what we see on TV is not reality. Not reality, reality anyway.
This is one of the many reasons Friday Night Tykes, the Esquire Network’s new docuseries on youth football in Texas, made me want to throw up on my lap and then punch my TV in the face when I saw the premiere episode last week.
Honestly, I found so many elements of the show so gut wrenchingly disturbing that I almost didn’t even want to call additional attention to the nightmare by writing about it.
I know what happens when someone like myself blogs or Tweets or Facebooks (totally it’s a verb) about something. People search for it, and find it, and maybe watch it even, giving the network exactly what they want: the viewership (aka the money) to keep the show alive.
I don’t want that. I want the show to die. In a fiery inferno preferably. But, quick and painless will do too.
Why is my passion so ignited over this?
So many reasons actually.
First, the kids. As an educator, as a parent, and as a human-freaking-being I can’t even begin to understand why grown men would behave the way the coaches of the children on the show behaved. Or why the parents of the children they are tasked with coaching would allow such behavior.
I get intensity. I get expecting perfection. I even get a desire to win by creating a team that is physically and mentally superior to all of their competitors. What I don’t get is how the coaches on that show intend to accomplish those goals by behaving with such little integrity and by treating the children with less respect than I give to my four legged family member.
I hate when adults are morally negligent when it comes to children in their care. Most of the kids on those (and all) youth football teams will end their careers in the sport before they even reach the age of majority. Few of them will actually go on to play professional or even college level athletics, but all of them will go on to be members of society.
It is sad that those given the opportunity to provide guidance to those youngsters who one day hope to be leaders in our nation aren’t able to see this as an opportunity to inspire them to be amazing people. By being amazing role models. By teaching them that you have to give respect to get it. By showing them the importance of integrity, honor, good sportsmanship, and having a strong English vocabulary. By keeping them SAFE on the football field.
Kids don’t need to be yelled at, talked down to, or ridiculed to perform. It doesn’t matter if they’re used to it. It doesn’t matter if they’re hardheaded. It doesn’t even matter what their mamas do.
But, let’s say you’re all good with the shouting. Maybe the cursing and the threatening and the degradation don’t bother you.
Fine, crazy person. Encouraging nine year olds to cause intentional bodily injury to other nine year olds is senseless. And entirely unsafe.
Now, let’s talk about what this does to the game of football. It hurts my heart to think that viewers who may or may not understand the beauty of the game will be tainted by the ugly we see on display in this show. Friday Night Tykes embodied pretty much everything bad that people have ever said about football, and virtually none of the good.
It didn’t show how becoming a part of a team can help a boy find his place in the world. It didn’t describe how a child’s confidence and passion can be ignited when they go on the field and work with a team to accomplish a goal. It didn’t focus on the beautiful, life long relationships that can be created on the field. They didn’t show a single kid who went to Disney World and brought back gifts for his three best friends, one of which was his head coach.
They showed winning at all costs. And how doing so matters more than being a good person.
Don’t get it twisted, the league my sons play for is a competitive level league and we like to get our win on, and it’s something that we do, quite well in fact. But, for us, football is not about winning and losing. It’s not about pain or injury. It’s about teamwork, integrity, and grit. It’s about pushing yourself and your teammates to be better, on the field and off. It’s about being a member of a community and a part of something special. And, it’s about heart; having one and growing one.
Something the people behind this show should probably look into doing.
Want to learn more about how the show is being perceived by those of us in the business of protecting youth football players? See what USA Football had to say about it here: USA Football on Friday Night Tykes and another tidbit from the people at ESPN on Friday Night Tykes.