The other day, as I was enjoying a marathon of American Ninja Warrior on the Esquire Network, this ad came on, for the first season of a show called ‘Friday Night Tykes’.
A brief stroll around the internet reveals that I am one of perhaps four Americans who has not already heard of, and been outraged by, ‘Friday Night Tykes’, which follows the football aspirations and coaching of a league of eight and nine year olds in Texas.
If ‘Friday Night Tykes’ is a documentary, an unembellished chronicle of the treatment of children, then it is ghastly and deserves all the censure and outrage which it seems to have generated. The Season One Replay linked above is appalling. At one point, an adult tells a child, “I want you to put it in the helmet, you understand?” When the child affirms, he continues, “I don’t care if you don’t get up”. Another adult explains to the camera, “When they put that helmet on, it’s time to go to battle.” At least two children appeared to be injured in the replay alone.
However, I hope that ‘Friday Night Tykes’ is exaggerated in the way of so much reality television. The clip mentioned above, “I don’t care if you don’t get up”, is edited heavily and cuts off abruptly. At one point, someone shouts, “You have to earn your playtime!”, which is such a caricaturishly evil thing to shout at children that I struggle to take it seriously. And, at this point, anyone who takes reality T.V. without a healthy dose of salt is a cretin: not only is it butchered more than edited, but people don’t behave normally in front of cameras. They know people want stories, and so they give them characters.
I am not in a moral panic about football injuries. It is obviously a dangerous sport; the evidence is undeniable at this point that many, if not most, professional first string football players retire with crippling injuries, many neurological. However, I believe that our bodies and our lives are our own to use or damage as we see fit and for whatever recompense we find sufficient. I object to the information necessary to make those decisions being withheld from players and their families, but, if informed, I think it is perfectly reasonable for someone to choose a few years of high earnings or athletic achievement at the cost of some of their later physical well-being. And if I would not make the same choice, that is not sufficient reason to deny them the ability to do so.
But those are adult decisions – children cannot make them. Their parents pose a more complicated problem: they are charged both with protecting their children and with encouraging their development. What do you do if your child is good at something which may bring them joy, fame, and fortune, or may cripple them? Or may do both?
Well, certainly, you don’t shout at an eight year old that you don’t care if he gets up or not. And even if the picture in ‘Friday Night Tykes’ is distorted through the reality T.V. lens, it’s still pretty fucking grotesque. I called this blog ‘The Gruesome’, but I often wander from that description. Not this week. Kids neurologically damaging other kids while adults frenzy in the sidelines is pretty damn sick.