It took about a week to read this. Not a bad read.
Before I read this book, I thought I had an inkling of how much Texans love their high school football.
Not even close.
The writer of this book, H.G. Bissinger spent a year of his life living in Odessa, Texas as he observed Permian High School football and conducted countless interviews. I suspect before this book was even published he had already moved back to Philadelphia at his old job with the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Friday Night Lights is often a blunt portrait of West Texas football, one where the win-at-all-costs mentality is very prevalent, where academics takes a distant back seat to athletics and where today’s stars become injured and rapidly become yesterday’s news. There are also the racial tensions, and Bissinger remarks that many in Odessa (as of 1988) used the n-word the way writers use punctuation.
For me, the book is a reminder that high school football is probably most prevalent in rural areas of Texas where sluggish economies and having few forms of entertainment give them little more to be encouraged or entertained about. One thing about the Panthers that really surprised me is despite their football prowess in 1988, only one of their football players was offered a college football scholarship (Ivory Christian to Texas Christian University, where he subsequently dropped out and transferred to another college). It makes me wonder if many of these players, instead of seeing football as a ticket to a college scholarship or to a lucrative NFL career, were simply burned out. Their Class 5A semifinals rival, Dallas Carter, had many players offered scholarships (one of which, Jessie Armstead, would later play in the NFL). A lot can be said for a small West Texas town that drills football into its players and motivates them to greatness.
It truly is amazing just how little job security there is in high school football in certain areas of Texas. Coach Gary Gaines’ Panther team lost to their biggest rival, Midland Lee, and there was talk of firing him. (In Michigan, one nearby high school football coach “resigned” after five seasons where his teams did no better than 1-8). One high school classmate told me of his brother, who was coaching a high school in West Texas it’s along Interstate 10 and how his brother had the support of 99 percent of the town. But that one percent consisted of the movers and shakers, and his brother was terminated.
Here’s the most disturbing story from Friday Night Lights: a player suffers a nasty groin injury and continues playing in a game because he doesn’t want to come out and it would be considered wimpy to go to the hospital. After the game, he sees a doctor who examines him and sees that one of his testicles has swollen as big as a grapefruit. The doctor then tells him it’s too late to treat the injured testicle and that it must be removed. The player’s mom is furious but he begs her not to make a fuss out of fear of being kicked off the team. This player later makes All-State.
I have no idea who this player was, but I suspect very strongly now he doubts making All-State was worth losing a testicle.
Richard Zowie tries to stay busy in his writing life and believes it’s far better to be busy than unemployed. Post comments here or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.