Reality Bites: Friday Night Tykes

There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

"Remember this shit? Playing pee-wee?"
"Yeah, it was fun."
"No, it wasn't. I remember getting yelled at: 'Too fat, Billy Bob!' 'Too slow and dumb!' We were just little kids, Mox. It's like nothing was ever good enough." - Varsity Blues

Yes, I just quoted a 1999 MTV movie starring James Van Der Beek. Because -- while it wasn't what you would call "good" according to most film scienticians -- it got one thing right about football in the state of Texas. Namely, that people are fucking crazy about football in the state of Texas.

With Friday Night Tykes, Esquire TV (or "The Esquire Network," or "The We're Much More Nutch Than Details Channel") is really straining to surpass the expectations set by years of their magazine's "Women We Love" articles and style blogging. The only reason I can think of that they were the first network to showcase Texas youth football is because TLC looked at its Honey Boo Boo-heavy lineup and said, "Nah, we're good."

Friday Night Tykes follows the teams of the San Antonio-basedTexas Youth Football Association (TYFA). Among these (and this may not be all of them, but I'm certainly not watching more than one episode to find out), are:

- The Outlaws - last year's undefeated champions. - The Predators - Which strikes me as an unfortunate name for a children's team. - The Junior Broncos - coached by Charles Chavarria and GM'd by general "mom-ager" Lisa Connell, the GM. We'll be returning to them shortly. - The Junior Rockets - who are returning from being suspended from last year's playoffs for "illegally recruiting players." What the hell does that even mean? Did the coaches surreptitiously canvass Chuck E. Cheese locations in Bandera and San Marcos? - The Colts

We were "the Kittens" when I was in junior high, which would seem at odds with folks like Brit Hume saying we're getting *more* feminine as a society.

The debut episode concentrates mostly on the Broncos and Coach Chavarria, who - surprise - thinks today's kids are soft and need to be "ruthless" on the playing field. Is he wrong? Certainly the crises of the last decade have taught us it takes a certain mentality to excel in the 21st century economy. So maybe we really do need to do a better job preparing our children for the grim realities of adulthood.

But not this, because this is repellent. I'm not one to argue our kids should spend entire days playing Call of Duty, but forcing grade schoolers (TYFA is for 8 to 9 year olds) to run in 99 degree heat until they puke is - there's no two ways about it - child abuse. Only in this case, it's collusion between indifferent/deluded parents (218 out of 100,000 football playing high school seniors will make it to the NFL) and the allegedly responsible adults charged with coaching their children. All par for the course for this cadre of wannabe Marv Marinoviches.

I don't remember which coach repeats the immortal phrase, "pain is weakness leaving the body," but each of them probably agrees with this mantra, most often heard uttered by Crossfit enthusiasts and psychopaths. Unfortunately, they're all mistaken, because "pain" and "exertion" aren't the same thing, and pain means you're doing something wrong.

None of which appears to matter to Chavarria, who gives every appearance of a sadist whose main pleasure point is watching children hurt each other.

Few of the kids are showcased, apart from Connell's son Colby, whom Lisa feels is ready to enter the "competitive" world of sports (i.e. not that pussy version where "everybody gets a trophy), and Jaden "J-Boogie" Armmer, who plays for the Colts, and was "recruited" when he was three years old.

Jaden also loses playing time for having the temerity to visit his grandmother for two weeks in the summer instead of attending practice. As punishment, Colts coach Goodloe makes him run for the entire session, after which he complains of feeling like he's about to pass out, and then hyperventilates all the way home. His parents, like most on the show, are unwilling to speak out against what I can only assume passes for character building in the TYFA. "Blow some chunks" and get back to it is what passes for first aid.

Another team, the Predators, seem destined for failure. I base this on coach Brian Brashears' decision to have a "family fun day" instead of actual practice at the team's first meeting. ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE, BRASHEARS.

Then again, he also claims empathy for parents watching their kids doing full contact drills, but the best he can do for one of his players knocked out of practice on a helmet-to-helmet hit is squirt some water on his head. I'm not up on current concussion protocols, but I suspect they're a little more involved than being told to "shake it off."

Incidentally, I'm sure the NFL is *thrilled* with Esquire for airing this.

The most depressing part of all? These kids are still ... nice. Connell's son barely gets any playing time in the Predators' first game, and a friend sincerely comforts him, apparently because Chavarria and his ilk haven't completed their crypto-fascist brainwashing. How long does that last? How long can childhood and honest camaraderie endure when kids are unrelentingly harangued about "weakness" and "failure?" And how can parents sit idly by as these deranged men exorcise a lifetime of personal and professional disappointment at the expense of their children?

In a mildly surprising turn of events, the Predators defeat the Broncos in the first game of the season, leaving Chavarria literally weeping on the field afterwards, lamenting the sacrifices he's made for this, the "biggest day of his life." You want to laugh, but then you realize this is just another crushing layer of self-loathing he's going to transfer to his helpless charges.

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