The Esquire Network—recently launched in September 2013 as a multimedia arm of the national men’s literary magazine of identical namesake—has a new show coming out that caught my attention. The show is called “Friday Night Tykes” and it is a new reality show that is giving viewers an inside look at what is likely the epicenter of football culture in America: The Texas Youth Football Association. The promo video shows all the same screaming football coaches and big hits that you’ve come to expect from trailers from Hollywood football movies like The Waterboy. Except now, 15 years after Adam Sandler gave us a cartoon character named Bobby Boucher, we have a different understanding about what those hits really do to the people playing the games. And yet down in Texas, this TV show catalogs the beginnings of that brutal path for children ages eight and nine years old.
See the Friday Night Tykes promo.
In the latest era of football encompassing the sport and how the fans interact with it, there’s an immediacy in how quickly things get played out. Tim Tebow went from beating the Steelers in a playoff game to an Internet meme icon as people photographed themselves doing his knee-down, hand-to-head pose in various locations. Mark Sanchez’ hysterically tragic “butt fumble” was the blooper of the 2012 NFL season. Along with those trends both fun and funny, there are sports opinions and observations that are made over and over and over. The one that I’m thinking of is how ESPN used to have a segment called “Jacked Up” where they looked at the biggest NFL hits of the day and the commentators joyously “ooh’d” and “ah’d” while tagging every brain-rattling blow with a guttural “he got JACKED UP!”
Having an opinion on “Jacked Up” isn’t original nor that compelling as an observation as everyone has made one by this point. Its relevance, howeer, remains just the same, especially considering it’s still possible to make a show like “Friday Night Tykes.” This isn’t to attack the producers of the show—I have only seen the promo so far, so I haven’t figured out if they are truly acting as documentarians or if they create any kind of narrative around the story they are documenting. What I do know is that it won’t be without controversy. Even just the promo video sparked negative words from Cleveland native LeCharles Bentley.
— LeCharles Bentley (@64AMDG) January 4, 2014
And consider the source. When LeCharles Bentley—a former all-world NFL offensive lineman who continues to make his living coaching football technique and discipline—lobs the words “child abusers” at youth football coaches, it means something. Granted, Bentley hasn’t seen any more of the program than we have, but you have to think he’s seen enough coaching and football situations to have a trustworthy instinct on the matter.
There are already calls from around social media that the program needs to be banned or canceled, but I couldn’t disagree with that take more. Of course I need to see some of the full episodes before I make some kind of judgment, but my immediate instinct is pretty decisive. The TV show isn’t likely causing this culture to persist, but rather just shining a light on it and publicizing something that exists regardless of the TV cameras. Cancelling the program doesn’t end this kind of coaching or these kinds of leagues. So, unless you think “Friday Night Tykes” will spark more of this culture, then banning or cancelling the program is pretty ridiculous.
We’ll see. I’ll be tuning in to the Esquire Network to find out what this show is all about. That’s the real point of any documentary, anyway. Take it from me, a huge Sea World fan who recently had his world rocked by the documentary Blackfish. I was a guy who justified Sea World by saying, “Maybe captivity isn’t really worse for killer whales—maybe it’s just different?” to a guy who doesn’t think he can ever buy a ticket into what used to be my most beloved park.
Like Blackfish acted as a mirror for me, maybe “Friday Night Tykes” will also serve as a mirror for parents and coaches around the country. Maybe it will make us talk more about the choice between health and safety and lessons about competitiveness and team unity.
Hopefully it will continue us down the path where we don’t trade one for the other in the name of football. That’s what I’m thinking right now about the show. We’ll see how it changes after I actually see it.