If you are an athlete, were an athlete, fantasize about being an athlete, have children who are athletes (of any level), are parents, have parents, like sports or know crazy people -- the new show on Esquire TV, "Friday Night Tykes," is definitely worth a look. Quite honestly, I had never heard of Esquire TV, but trust me when I tell you, this show will put the station on the map.
For the past four weeks on Tuesday's at 9 p.m., you can watch the series that follows five youth football teams comprised of 8- and 9-year-olds in San Antonio, TX who are part of the Texas Youth Football & Cheer Association. At first glance, you might mistakenly believe that this show is about youth sports. After the first five minutes, however, you will see the show has almost nothing to do with football or youth sports of any kind. It is a cautionary tale about misplaced anxiety, violations of basic tenets of parenting, desperate grabs at fading days of glory for parents in the stands, coupled with a blatant disregard for sportsmanship and an affinity for grammatically inaccurate sentences.
Of course, you have the usual characters we have come to expect on reality TV -- the outsized personalities, the people who you listen to in their interviews and say to yourself incredulously, "Did they realize that the camera was on?" In "Friday Night Tykes," the characters come in the form of coaches, parents, team presidents and managers. And of course, every game is chronicled by the TYFA radio announcers -- doesn't every youth football league have its own announcers and radio network.
Don't get me wrong. I really do believe in sports as a great experience for kids for all the oft-repeated principles -- to learn about their bodies, develop skills, enjoy the experience of being part of a team, contribute to something bigger than themselves and learn the value of hard work. I played lots of sports, my sister played, our kids play, most every kid I know plays, many adults friends still play. I believe in standards, discipline, building self-esteem and understanding the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat (little nod to ABC's Wide World of Sports circa 1978).
Here's what I don't believe in. Team cheers that start with the coach saying (mind you to 8- and 9 -year-olds), "I say rip, you say heads. RIP HEADS!!RIP HEADS!!" Or the inspirational message from a coach to thirdgraders, "You have the opportunity to rip their friggin' heads off and make them bleed." And what could be more motivating for your young athlete than a coach who tells a kid who is violently vomiting (think "The Exorcist"), "Blow chunks and let's go."
As a parent, I was particularly horrified by the mom who felt her 8-year-old's performance in a youth football league reflects badly on her. Of course, most parents I know, myself included, do feel that their kids' behavior in the world is a reflection on them -- but I thought we were talking about honesty, kindness, effort. I never thought we were talking about the ability to hit another kid because a coach says to an 8 -or 9-year-old, and I quote, "I don't care if he don't get up."
Full disclosure: I started watching the show because it was executive produced, co-created and filmed by my close friend since second grade (yeah, Riker Hill Elementary School). And sticking with the sports theme, this is not Matt's first rodeo. He has tons of Emmys. He has an eye for the story within the story, the ability to turn sports stories into life lessons.
But I will tell you this: I won't "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" or modeling myself after the Real Housewives of Who Knows Where USA. But, like a train wreck that I cannot turn away from, I will continue to watch "Friday Night Tykes." If for no other reason, it makes me feel like parent of the year.