By Elizabeth Eckhart
If the sneak peek of new show Friday Night Tykes is anything like what the actual show will prove to be, there’s no doubt enraged parents will make their voices known. The clip, which features quality quotes such as “You have the opportunity, today, to rip their freakin’ head off, and let them bleed,” and “I want you to stick it in his helmet — I don’t care if he don’t get up,” may sound fairly reminiscent of coaches’ speeches from other sports films and documentaries such as Hard Knocks. The difference here, of course, is that Hard Knocks followed professional players whose lives and careers depended on tough coaches and hard calls, while Friday Night Tykes follows five teams of 8 and 9-year-old rookies in the Texas Youth Football Association.
Esquire Network claims that the show will bring prevalent health questions regarding young athletes to the forefront. On their website, the TV network stated that the show will have “coaches and parents offer insight into why they believe they’re teaching valuable lessons about discipline and dedications, but also grapple with serious questions about parenting, safety and at what price we’re pushing our kids to win.” Whether or not the show was originally created to display the safety hazards associated with intense contact sports at a young age, it will undoubtedly do just that. If you cringed while watching slow-motion repeats of hard hits during NFL games, just wait until that same smackdown style is duplicated on an 8-year-old boy.
In light of the NFL’s $765 million concussion settlement, Esquire Network should be using the show to demonstrate the dangers and possibility of child concussions, especially with the recent headlines chronicling retired players who suffer long-term impairment after repeated blows. However, the preview seems to follow a professional game-style trend, glorifying hard hits and difficult practices. Viewers will likely see the same brutal beat-downs, mental manipulation, and disregard for pain and bullying Hard Knocks demonstrated with adult men.
Emotional stressors aside (after all, there is one measly clip of a mother reminding that “they are babies”) the real issue is — and always has been — risk of injury. Although most states have enacted strong concussion safety laws, many of these only apply to school-run youth sports and disregard private leagues like the Rookies division of the Texas Youth Football Association. In November, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the National Research Council finally called for a system to start tracking sports-related concussions, especially in youth sports prior to high school, since young athletes have the least amount of tracking regarding number and severity of concussions.
Without public school systems, it’s been found that even in light of the increasing awareness of the seriousness of concussions, young athlete still face a “culture of resistance” to reporting injuries and staying on the sideline until they’ve been healed. As IOM committed chairman Robert Graham stated, “Concussion is an injury that needs to be taken seriously. If an athlete has a torn ACL on the field, you don’t expect him to tape it up and play.” Although millions of children participate in private league and community sports, it’s unclear how many suffer concussions.
The show, which airs January 14 on the Esquire Network (which is available with some DirecTV packages and from other cable providers) may have been created to display worrisome practices in little league football, but even the NFL is skeptical. As a spokesperson told the LA Times, “The trailer is definitely troubling to watch.” The NFL has been trying to reduce the number of head-to-head collisions among its players through penalties, fines, and education. The spokesperson also added that Friday Night Tykes is not part of its Heads Up Football Program, which seeks to improve player safety in youth football. It’s up to the viewer, perhaps, to take away from the show what Esquire hopes they will. We can only hope that the hard tackles, overly intense practices and coach-encouraged beat downs will not be nixed by a finishing trophy proving these tactics necessary.