Monday Must-Read: Friday Night Lights

*Format change update: I’m going to go back to Monday must-read postings, but they will not be every week.*

My Monday must-read this week is also one of my more recent reads: Friday Night Lights by H. G. Bissinger.

From Goodreads page

From Goodreads page

This book is as old as I am, literally. It was first published in 1989/1990 (depending on where you look) and has been republished and rereleased every 5-10 years to mark the anniversary of its publication. This book was also the basis for the movie and television series of the same name.

My newspaper’s book club read this book for October. I was worried because I wasn’t sure how much of the book would be relevant in 2015. It was published 25 years ago.

I shouldn’t have been worried. Many aspects of this book could have been written with no date attached and I felt like it was something that could be happening right now. Not much has changed, which is really quite sad.

Bissinger was granted full access to the Odessa Permian High School football team in Odessa, Texas, for one season. He spoke with players, traveled with the team, went to school, sat in the coaches’ offices, everything. The good, the bad and the ugly. And he wrote about it all.

He wrote about how football players were treated like gods and given virtually free reign to do whatever they wanted. If they wanted to learn, great. If they didn’t want to, well they had to focus on football so that was acceptable.

It is absolutely amazing to read.

As a former high-school athlete, I can tell you this is the case for many of us. If you’re a guy. I’m not. I also played on a team that had very little prowess. And I wanted to learn because I had plans of going to college and furthering my education. Class came before the team for me.

Not in Odessa. And I have a hard time believing things have changed there. I saw a video online not long ago from a pep rally for the football team. They were led in like they were special honorees. The gym was packed and going nuts. From the highlights, it lasted at least an hour. For a football team. During a school day.

I guess they do everything bigger in Texas…

The only issue I really had with this book was how slow it read. I had anticipated a book mostly about a football team, with fast-moving action and play-by-play descriptions. Bissinger really focused more on the town and the community impact the Permian football program had in Odessa.

Bissinger got a lot of flack for his book after it was published because he showed the other side of living in Texas. The racism especially.

Not everything is like it appears on TV shows like Dallas.

Again, I have a hard time believing much of that has changed dramatically in 25 years.

Friday Night Lights is a great example of sports-related non-fiction, but it also gives us a glimpse into the psyche of the high school athlete. We wonder why so many athletes get into trouble, or have attitude issues or lack work ethic. This work is a study in how athletes are given privileges other students only can dream about.

Bissinger recently wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated about the 25th anniversary of the book. It is available here:

The 25 years later look is a great piece as well. It shows you where the key players in the book are now. How some have succeeded and others have faltered.

Friday Night Lights’ biggest light shines directly on the issues with the emphasis we place on athletics in high schools. And maybe if a few more people read it and are impacted, change would come.


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