Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Friday Night Lights, first published in 1990, inspired a well-regarded movie and TV series. Excellently written and reported, it investigates the perks and pitfalls of football culture in a small Texas town in the late-1980s. It deals frankly with racism, sexism, homophobia, underage drinking, and the glorification of sports and masculinity. Such mature themes make it a better read for older kids, and a great launchpad for discussion.
What's the story?
In Odessa, a small town in Texas, football is a way of life that galvanizes a whole community. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, the book that launched the TV show (and film) chronicles this town in 1988 as the Permian Panthers and six of its key players make their way through a yearlong season. Caught in the endless cycle of boom and bust that plagues many oil towns, the entire city turns its gaze to the Panthers, who offer a Friday night counternarrative of glory and victory to this otherwise ordinary existence. But there's a dark side to the football fever, evident in the underbelly of entrenched racism, homophobia, sexism, and segregation in the town. Will football uplift Odessa and the team players who sacrifice their lives, academics, and bodies for it, or will it take as much from them as it gives?
Is it any good?
Friday Night Lights is an excellent, if uneasy, read. Anyone who attended a high school where sports seemed bigger than books -- and that would be lots of them -- will feel a familiar tug at the description of athletes loafing by on low academic expectations, on the pulse of a school that beats fastest on Friday night. But this book pulls back the curtain on football fever and offers a deeply detailed, nuanced look at the risks and rewards of such fervor -- the way racism may disappear on the field but persists the next day in the hallways, the way the very parents who themselves saw their lives derailed by physical injury encourage their sons to take the same risk, the way girls and minorities forever play second fiddle in the cult of masculinity -- and emerges with a troubling, sympathetic portrait.
This book's mature themes make it better for older kids, and great for parents to engage with those readers about the thornier issues of American life, most of which are fresh today, in spite of the book's original publication date of 1990.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about racism in small towns. How does the depiction of racism in Odessa compare to racism today? Do you think small towns are still like this, or is the book a relic of the past? How are things different now? How are they the same?
How does the balance of sports and academics measure up at your school? What are the attitudes reflected in your school about the importance of learning vs. sports?
Friday Night Lights shows football as a one-way ticket to glory and fame, but a short-lived achievement with big risks. What price do many of the team members pay for their devotion to sports? What's life like after football for them?