It should come as no surprise to most people that I rarely watch television. However, I saw some people talking on Facebook and Twitter about this show and I had to check it out for myself. Good Lord, did this give me good material to write about. Thank you, random people I know on Twitter and Facebook. Invisible pancake breakfasts for you all.
Reality television is all the rage these days. People who are as average as you and me are becoming celebrities overnight. It makes us wonder how they got to be where they are and why we could never come up with that kind of idea. Well, if you thought semi-unscripted shows could get any worse, we've got a sports-related one on our heels, and it's certainly bound to be one of the most controversial shows on cable.
The show is called Friday Night Tykes. It debuted this month on the recently-established Esquire Network (formerly Style Network--I don't see a real difference other than gender preference here), and it tells the story of five junior-league football squads in the San Antonio, Texas area. From the very beginning, these eight-and-nine-year-olds are running, tackling, and getting conditioned as if they were the NFL stars themselves. Just as children do, they'll cry in pain, and their coaches tell them to push on. They'll enforce the kids to literally knock the taste out of the other kids' mouths in any way possible. While this may be normal for various American cultures who treat youth/high school/college football like an officially recognized and organized religion, this might literally scare the living crap out of everyone outside of the circle.
Here's a link to the first episode of the series, in case you want to take a look. The first two minutes or so should be enough for you, really. If you can get through more of it, good for you.
I had an inkling of awareness that there are practices like these that exist around the country. I tried watching the first episode online and I couldn't get myself to finish it. I'm not a wimp in the least bit, but what they were teaching the kids and how they went about it made me angrier than the kids actually going through with what they were told. Grant it, the kids are learning a sport at a young age, but pushing them this hard and influencing them to literally cripple the other team is grounds for child abuse. That could just be me being a 23-year-old woman who doesn't have kids and hasn't played a contact sport in five years, but if a coach was telling my child to make sure they hit the other kid hard enough that they don't get up, I'd get a little angry. This may mean that I'm a sensitive person, but you're also desensitizing the child and making them brutal. It's like dogfighting--if you teach the dog at a young age to tear another dog apart, that's going to be infused in their psyche and it's never going to leave. A child's brain is like a sponge; if you start encouraging these practices in them and they go through with it, what are you really teaching them? Plus, if they're taking super hard hits like you might see on the show, how the heck are they going to be physically and mentally by the time they turn 18? Is the thought scaring you? It better.
In turn, this material is the exact kind of stuff that will draw attention and gain a response from viewers. They wouldn't be showing this on TV if it wasn't going to stir up conversation. It's extremely dirty, yes, but this sells. Why? Because it's shocking. Because it's going to make you gasp, just as it made me gasp the first time I saw two young boys go helmet-to-helmet. Even if it makes you look away, it makes you want to watch more just so you can scoff at the practices portrayed in the show. And that's what they want. It's entertainment and it's money for them.
Is it exposure to a serious issue at hand? Well, considering that they have been doing this for a long time, this is considered humane and that there is no major problem. Obviously, because of the shock value, this falls into the current category of what is "sellable television material." Personally, I don't like it, but people are going to watch it anyway. I don't know why--that's just how things are now. On a separate road, this could be seen as an extreme end to what junior and pee-wee football may be in other regions as opposed to what you may be used to seeing if you know a little one who plays. If your child/relative plays this kind of ball, BLESS YOU AND BLESS THEM. Seriously. I don't know how they can do it. It isn't right in my eyes, but if it's something they enjoy, there is no point in taking that right away from them.
What this truly does is that it brings the thought of how to push children when teaching and enforcing a sport into question. How much is too much? Are some coaches even teaching the children the correct methods? I watched the first two minutes of the video again and I see the kids putting their heads down on a tackle. While I scream and flail my arms in the air out of anger, I throw the "red challenge flag," as it were. It's almost as if you're sending your kids to the slaughter. You might see the parents showing concern about the kids, saying that they're "practically babies," but what's being done about it? Oh heck, something might have been done, but I was too disgusted to watch the second half of the episode. It was one of those "I want to play Whack-a-Mole with a coach's head" kind of things that doesn't deserve my time and energy. To make a long story short [too late], while it sucks in viewers through controversy, it can make you think about how we're teaching kids and how we're instilling values and morals into their minds. Some kids need more encouragement than others, yes, but there are still some sensitive kids in the bunch, and we do need some of those in the world, too.
These are only my opinions. What are yours? Have you truly thought about this?