Henry G.. Bissinger is an American sports journalist who was inspired to write a book about a town in Texas called Odessa. The town's economy is reliant to their oil reserves and Middle East politics. Due to this, the town is faced with extreme economic situations. Money magazine even published an article stating that the town of Odessa is the fifth worst place to live in the United States (U.S.). As a result of the economic situation of the town, there is an alarming rise of crime rates and such miserable projections.
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Although the town is facing economic and social problems, one thing binds the whole town—football. As narrated in the book, the town takes pride to their football team. They do take time to truly watch the football games. Every Friday night, 20,000 people watch their games and there are thousands of people watching while they are practicing. The town’s people are watching the pride of their town as they slowly build their strategies and success in every game.
The Permian Panthers are not an ordinary high school football team. The records of their lost and wins are unmatched and the team holds a record of 5 state championships. Small boys in Odessa mostly dream to be football players for the Permian Panthers. In a line stated by Coach Gaines he said that
There's twelve hundred boys in Permian High School. You divide that by three and there's four hundred in every class. You guys are a very special breed. There are guys back there that are every bit as good as you are. But they were not able to stick it out for whatever reason. Football's not for everybody. But you guys are special…..You guys have dreamt about this for many years, to be a part of this team, some of you since you were knee-high (Bissinger, 2006, p. 7).
While the girls in town dream to become Pepettes or those that cheer and “serve” the players during their off days. In Odessa most of the people are defined by their duties in their football team and they live by it. The town is too obsessed with the football team that they didn't really take notice of the expenses made by the team ($20,000 a plane ride). Because of their obsession, the town has neglected the education system leaving them a small amount of money to spend for books and teaching materials.
Bissinger patiently narrates the high school football team's journey and challenges on their way to their championship games through the characters in the story. The story highlights few of the players in the team which helps build up the conflict in the society and in the whole town.
The first character is Booby Miles. He is an African American who plays as a running back of the team. He is the star player and takes pride of his self due to his talent. This season was his time to shine and lead his team to victory. He was being recruited by big college football teams but faced an accident which injured his knee. The accident caused him to stop playing for the team. Later on, he knew that he could not have a full recovery as he expected. His dream of playing as a professional football player was shattered. Booby turned into a different direction because he did not finish his college education and he does not have money to find a good job.
Reflecting on the situation of Booby Miles, his life could be compared to the situation of the town. He was described as arrogant because of his skills and knowledge in football, but after his accident, he seemed to be lost and didn’t have work. In contrast, the town also experienced their peak in the economy but eventually, due to the inconsistency of oil they never really had a stable economic growth. Just like Booby, they are stuck having no other option but football in the situation of the town they are stuck with oil.
The next character is a Mexican-American player named Brian Chavez. He excelled in his class as well in sports. Although he had the passion for football, he later on realized that there is more to life than football and the invisible walls of Odessa. He graduated college as a class valedictorian and attended Harvard University after his graduation. Brian Chavez is not like any other people living in Odessa; his realization was something that the town would perceive as something unusual because education was not as prioritized in their town. Compared to other players, he dreams of his progress and development as a person. He believes that there are other options other than football in which he could also find fulfillment.
Don Billingsley is a football player who frequently finds himself in trouble with his football coaches. His father was a former Permian Panther and because of that he was living behind his shadows with the expectation that he will be like his father. The pressure surrounding him leads to the alcoholism and drug abuse. His character is being pressured by the society to be what he expects him to be. Their family is a representation of the past and present due generations where in the frustrations of his father to be a great football player was passed to Don. The desperation of his father is a pressure to him; his fight with his coaches is a sign of his rebellion to his father as well as the expectation of the town.
The book focuses on the different sides of Odessa's Society while it is surrounded by different factors such as economic and social problems and their football team. Looking at the different situations of the characters, football totally influenced their lives. Based on the town’s perspective and beliefs, the people treated football as a tradition. There was an unspoken rule that the town must prioritize football. The town has even neglected the facilities of the schools due to the town’s hope of the football team.
Based on the history of the town, their football team was formed around 1920’s where in segregation was common. In 1965, the team won their first championship. From then on, they had been pursuing their goal to win every championship—which eventually led to the town’s obsession of the players and the game. Although in Texas high school football is a serious event, the town of Odessa seems to take it as a tradition or part of their culture. As narrated in the story, every one dreams to be a part of the team or are training to be a part of it. Most of the girls dream to be Pepettes of the Permian cheerleaders. While the boys dream to be part of the football team.
Looking at the town’s beliefs and priorities, they had really built their lives around football. There seems to be an invisible wall, which hid them from thinking of other things other than football. The society is fixated with football that they did not see any other things more important than the sport.
Sadly, most of the players and the people also ended up like Booby. They did have other options but, they did not fully develop other skills or their education because they focused too much on their football. In some way, the government must also be blamed because of their lack of focus on the society itself. They neglected all other aspects that they must develop for the betterment of the society, mostly the teenagers. They did not teach the future generations that because of the changing times, there would be other important things than winning a football match or giving pride for the whole town. It is also important to see development in an academic point of view.
The town is obviously stuck with the concept that having one winning team would be their only hope to reaffirm themselves that they are a good town that deserves to be recognized by other towns. It is stated in the first chapter of the book, “Of all the legends of Odessa, that of high school football was the most enduring. It had a deep and abiding sense of place and history, so unlike the town, where not even the origin of the name itself could be vouched for with any confidence” (Bissinger, 2006, p.22). Given their social and economic situation, they need something to boost their confidence as a town; something that they could view as positive compared to the negative events that are happening in their society.
Bissinger, H. G. (2006). Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.
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