By Patrick McAvoy
Recently I was searching through Netflix for a new show and stumbled upon “Friday Night Lights.” I know I’m a little late to the “Friday Night Lights” bandwagon, but I figured I might as well finally give it a shot because I had nothing else going. Today I finished the first season and it was a roller coaster from the first episode. I have seen other shows attempt to capture the craziness of high school football down south, but “Friday Night Lights” does so in such a way that it seems as if the Dillon Panthers are a real team led by their fearless leader, Coach Taylor. Although “Friday Night Lights” is just a fictional show about a high school football team it shows the real life glory and horrors of high school football down south.
In the south, high school football is more than just a sport; to some it is almost like their religion. Bob Brown touched upon this concept in his article for ABC News when he interviewed a high school football coach, named Bob Shipley, and he said “If you grow up in Texas as a kid like I did, it’s preached in your household around the table from the time you know what’s going on.” This is the case in “Friday Night Lights” as everyone in the town is obsessed with the high school football team and each store in the town closes on Friday in preparation for the games that night. Down south, specifically in Texas, high school football is treated as if it was a professional sport and is followed by fans that are occasionally crazier than professional sports fans. In towns that there are not professional sports franchises near, high school football gives people the opportunity to be passionate about something that is close with the community.
The community loves their local teams and the more successful the team is, the more they give back to the community. Evan Symon wrote for Cracked.com that “in Texas, however, high school football is responsible for shaping the life of the entire state. Teams generate millions of dollars of revenue, and the coach with enough winning seasons under his belt can damn near get away with murder.” Because of the popularity of the teams and the avid fan base, the high school football teams generate millions for the schools which is absolutely insane. I’m from Billerica, Massachusetts where high school football is pretty big but would be peewee compared to Texas. We have a grass field with wooden bleachers that are run down which is nothing compared to the schools that have $60 million stadiums. This large amount of money also goes towards the coaches. Mark Koba, for CNBC, even said “…the national average salary for a high school football coach is around $39,000, in football-loving Texas, that average is more than $88,000, and one coach at Euless Trinity High School made more than $114,000 in 2011.” These numbers are extremely high and are even higher in rare cases.
“Friday Night Lights” further illustrates the effect that a high school football team can have on a small community and the large amounts of money involved. When the potentially NFL-bound starting quarterback of the Panthers, Jason Street, became paralyzed the entire community pitched in to raise money to help out with his medical bills. This is a kind gesture that could be real but the community raised an absurd amount of money because of the love the community had for their quarterback and team. The team itself helps out the community because of the business the games bring in. Thousands of people go to the games and families of away teams sometimes must stay in hotels around Dillon, which helps the economy of Dillon. It is a symbiotic relationship between the team and community and this can even lead to the team being treated as if they are Gods.
The popularity of the teams almost gives the players a level of superiority over non-football players. If I was a decent football player in the south right now there is a very good chance that I would not be doing this blog right now and would have people who do it for me. This is shown in “Friday Night Lights” as there are multiple scenes of star running back, Tim Riggins, walking through the hallway of the school and having completed assignments handed to him. This happens with multiple players but the most prominent is Riggs. The superiority of being a football player doesn’t stop at school and even gives the players special treatment under the law. There are multiple scenes through the show so far of the players partying and drinking and no one cares. I know it’s high school and stuff happens, but there is a scene after Jason Street gets injured and is no longer on the team when he tries to buy a six-pack but is told no because he is underage but then Tim Riggins walks in and buys two six-packs and goes unquestioned. Definitely a low blow to Jason. Another example of this is when star linebacker, Bobby Reyes beat up another a student he was placed in jail but was quickly released after lying by saying the other student was making racial remarks. It was clearly a lie but he was given the benefit of the doubt because of the way he spent his friday nights.
These situations of fictional football players being treated better than other students may seem like a stretch at points, but these things actually happen. All the coaches down south care about is winning and will do so at all costs. William Lane, a former major high school football coach in Texas, touched upon this when he talked about the illegal recruitment of players from other schools. Lane talked about how they must convince the parents to file paperwork to change districts and “to “legally” pull this off, a kid and his parents will have to file paperwork explaining the switch between districts. A parent’s occupation is an acceptable factor, so the parents of star players will often suddenly find themselves getting great job offers from a few districts over.” A situation like this happened on “Friday Night Lights” when the athletic director wanted to recruit a stud new quarterback after Street got hurt and he did this by giving his a parent’s’ new jobs, a new house, and much more power to come home to Dillon.
Sports are crazy. They give people some to lose themselves and become fully enriched and passionate in. Usually its college or professional sports people are passionate about, but even high school sports have the ability to bring people together and create common interests. It is insane how different high school football is down south as opposed to in Massachusetts but it gives those people something to care about. Some may say they care too much or treat the players too well but if you said that to them they’d probably just say their team is better.