This could have been an easy column to write.
Righteous indignation would be a natural and predictable reaction to “Friday Night Tykes.”
The show, which debuted last week on the Esquire Network, is everything bad about youth sports presented with the sensationalistic flair of reality television.
Overzealous coaches, unrealistic parents and players burdened by expectations are all featured in the show, which follows an independent youth football league in Texas.
“You have the opportunity today to rip their freakin’ head off and let them bleed,” a coach yells during the show’s opening monologue.
His players are 8 and 9 years old.
It caught the attention of the NFL, which said the trailer for the show was “troubling to watch.”
Esquire defended the show in a statement: “We believe ‘Friday Night Tykes’ brings up important and serious questions about parenting and safety in youth sports, and we encourage Americans to watch, debate and discuss these issues.”
That’s noble, but come on. It’s “Toddlers and Tiaras” with shoulder pads – pure train-wreck television that invites viewers to gaze upon the carnage.
But we watch. We snidely condemn the crazy coach or the pushy parent. It makes us feel better about ourselves, that no matter what failings we have as parents or mentors, we’re not that bad.
And this is where a serious discussion of the issues raised by the show becomes difficult. The blame is much broader. The blame partly rests on us.
Blame rests with fans, whose rabid devotion has turned professional and college sports into multi-billion-dollar enterprises. Anywhere money goes, unscrupulous characters follow and limits are pushed. Are we supposed to be surprised when we hear stories of middle school athletes being recruited by major colleges?
Blame also rests with the media, which glorifies parents such as Earl Woods and Richard Williams. Parents see those stories and think they have a meal ticket, or at least free college tuition, in their child’s athletic talents as long as they push them hard enough.
Is there a solution? Whatever that is will require more than a television show.
It will require our sports culture to look in the mirror. And that’s not easy if you don’t like what you see.