July 29, 2014

We need controversial shows like “Friday Night Tykes”

Friday Night Tykes 595

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.

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.

  • WFNYJacob

    I can’t help but think of this article when anyone mentions the Esquire Network:

    http://jezebel.com/god-help-me-i-watched-the-esquire-network-for-24-hours-1410021490

  • mgbode

    unless you think “Friday Night Tykes” will cause more of this culture

    it certainly won’t derail it. it’ll glamorize it and the people who hate it just won’t watch. I am making assumptions, but assumptions based on what has hit the ratings booms for other programs.

    they are trying to hit the male demographic for “Dance Moms.” sad state of affairs in a societal type of way, but if that’s what gets ratings, then that is what will get shown.

  • mgbode

    on the Youth Sports Culture itself:

    I
    hate alot of it. Really, really hate it. I coach my kids teams and do so
    because I love teaching them but also because I hate how many coaches treat their players. I cannot stand the coaches who deride and scream and break down their 4-10yo players. There just isn’t a reason to do so.

    The philosophy I use (and I’m sure there are better ones, but it’s the one that’s worked for me).

    (1) Every word is spun in a positive manner. Even when they are completely messing up it’s “Hey, I know you can do better.”

    (2) Break everything down to it’s simplest form and work your way up. Everything has steps and assuming they’ll just get it all at once is what leads to alot of the coaching frustration which leads to the screaming, etc.

    Example: You don’t just have a QB, RB and WR all running full speed handing the ball off to each other. No, you first teach proper technique on how to hand the ball off and how to receive that handoff. Stand still to do it, then walk to do it, then run to do it (and only the handoff). It’ll become common nature and you can do a million things based on that simple skill.

    (3) Everything is congratulated. High-5′s on positive plays. Energetic support on negative plays to forget that and move onto the next play. Once they see the coaching do that, they do it amongst themselves as well (and, honestly, most of them care more about their peers).

    (4) Fun ways to do alot of it. I even cannot list how many different types of games I have created to get them to learn some of the basic tasks. Getting their competitive juices flowing just to do what is really a simple drill makes it more fun at practice and it shows up at games.

    (5) Energy – it’s exhausting, but showing a ton of energy and making sure to keep all their energy up is one of the biggest things that can be done. if that means playing some of the games with them at practice or running out for high-5′s (and back off the field) between plays during games, it helps.

    (6) Don’t waste time – I have practice time detailed out to the minute. I don’t follow it perfectly if things don’t go to plan, but it’s there to make sure everything is thought through and everything we do has a purpose. Kids sitting around at practice not doing anything isn’t fun for anyone.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Just admit it Jacob you miss G4TV!!! I know I do because I can no longer oggle I mean view my future ex-wife Ms. Sarah Jean Underwood. Please no one tell Candace Swanepoel!!!!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Frankly I’m surprised it took this long for a show to make it to the air waves especially when you consider where it takes place. I guess on the bright side at least it’s on The Esquire Network and not one of the many ESPN channels. I’m kind of surprised FoxSports1 didn’t carry it I mean this seems like the perfect Fox show to me.

  • mgbode

    if you run this show in Florida, then you can tie in the gambling portion of the youth football games as a subplot.

  • humboldt

    That “Jacked Up” film should go in a time capsule representing the height of irresponsibility in the NFL and its media arms. The Ray Lewis hit (#1) is especially galling – he throws a forearm shiver right at the receiver’s head. I already can’t take his babbling sanctimoniousness, but seeing abjectly violent hits like that makes me reach a totally new level of antipathy.

  • humboldt

    This is great. No kids yet – hopefully someday – but I’ve coached little league and resonate with a lot of what you list. Another big focus of mine is helping my players resist the instinctive urge to demonize the other team. If their guys fall down help them up, if they get injured clap when they leave the field of play, shake their hands at the end of the game, don’t gloat, etc. At the end of the day, we’re all just playing a game together in a field.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Wuss!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    “Jacked Up” doesn’t bother me as much I mean grown men who get paid very well to entertain the masses in what has become the modern day Gladiatorial spectacle. But it isn’t something that should be shown to children.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    People will bet on just about anything luckily for me I was never good at betting which is why I play free fantasy leagues.

  • humboldt

    It bothers me because during that timeframe the league was strenuously covering up the concussion-dementia link. Absolute hypocrisy.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Very true I wasn’t trying to make light of the health issues related to football. That being said it’s the nature of the beast.

  • mgbode

    agreed, sportsmanship is definitely important as well. I always make it a point to congratulate the opposing player when they make a good play as well.

    and, not demonizing the other team also helps with results. if they cannot blame the other team for what is going wrong, then there’s only one way to get better. play better.

  • Bob

    I have no doubt certain this reality show will be an accurate portrayal of pee-wee football, unlike all the other scripted reality shows. That being said, I think I’d still rather play with my dog.

  • Bob

    Suppose this show enjoys at least moderate success and runs for more than one season. What will be the premise and/or catch of next show that ups the ante and goes one step further?

    TAKING ALL BETS NOW!

  • Guest

    mgbode,

    That is really awesome. The kids you coach are lucky to have you.

  • mgbode

    Thank you, that is very kind.

  • The Other Tim

    This is my first year since 2005 when I haven’t had a son in tackle football. In some cases the coaches are the problem. In most cases it’s the parents.
    It’s the coaches job to prepare the kids so they won’t get hurt. If your kids can’t go full speed, they’ll be hurt by someone who can.
    Parents are lining up to sign up 5 year-olds for tackle football here in SoCal. It’s gonna take a lot more than a little watched series on a barely watched premium cable network to derail America’s obsession with football.