Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How 'Friday Night Lights' Taught Me To Look At Football Differently...and How 'Glee' May Ruin That New Outlook...

Fact: I hate football. That's no secret. It's one of the reasons I put off watching Friday Night Lights, I'm ashamed to say now.

I hate football. I find the game somewhat barbaric, pretty unnecessary, and downright dull. I also thought the antics of the team members too often resembled a frat house than a group of hard-working individuals or otherwise heroes.

Case in point: Ryan Murphy and glee. After all, his football team doesn't seem to be much of a team after all but instead just a bunch of guys who shower together after they throw a ball around. They fight; they curse; they don't even seem to like each other, let alone help each other. They bully; they intimidate; they turn their noses (and fists) up at anything that isn't football. It's hard to imagine them supporting each other on the field since they never support each other off the field. They are the stereotypical, shallow, and one-dimensional football player cliches I always disliked.

I've always hated football. Even when I was in college at USC-- maybe even especially when I was at college at USC-- I hated how it was such a damn event. I hated how a bunch of guys with good arms who liked to hit people were celebrated and heaped rewards upon like they cured cancer or something.

But maybe that was because I really didn't know any of the players. I had a Spanish class with quite a few of them, but they never showed up. They either had away games or simply felt like they didn't need to show up; no one would dare fail a Trojan. Just like no one would dare fail a Dillon Panther, right?

Fact: The only football players I've really ever gotten to know were the fictional ones of Dillon and East Dillon. Fact: Some of them felt just as entitled because everyone around them treated them like their sh*t didn't stink. Or like they didn't even sh*t at all. Fact: Some of them-- hell, most of them had problems so much greater than the game of football and still they put football first, even recklessly. But they did so as a team. They rallied around each other; they came to each other's aid not just on the field but also in their home lives when someone lost someone close to them, or got injured, or was just down on their luck.

Fact: Friday Night Lights made me believe in team unity.

Call it reacting out of the actions of a good, strong leader. Coach Taylor wasn't just training quarterbacks and kickers; he was shaping men. Call it reacting the way a small town, close-knit community normally would. Mindsets are just different when those around you have been the same faces since birth. Whatever you want to say about it, it showed a sense of hope.

Hope that not all players are neanderthals. Hope that not all of them are just in the game to get rich, get the girls, and get their faces on sneakers and cereal boxes. Hope that they would carry their sense of genuine team spirit-- genuinely putting others before themselves-- over to their families and their girlfriends and their co-workers someday.

Friday Night Lights taught us that in order to be great, artists are supposed to be selfish. But in order to be great at football, you have to be anything but. You can't let your own stars in your eyes blind you; you can't get distracted by the big stadium lights or the TV cameras on the sidelines or even the scouts in the stands. And most importantly, you can't do it alone. You have to trust your teammate to have your back, to catch the ball, to clear a path, to tackle first those who are trying to take you down. And you have to be worthy of the same exact trust back.

Fact: All I have ever wanted out of life was to be an artist yet still feel like I was part of a team. Fact: I never played team sports in order to achieve this. I didn't like physical activity, sure, that was part of it, but I also didn't want my lack of athleticism to let anyone else down. Fact: I started working in the entertainment industry because I heard so many people in interviews describe film sets as that sense of camaraderie or community that I had always desired. Somehow, though, I still managed to end up working alone, and from home. Go figure.

Dillon, Texas is a pretty small pond. The Panthers and Lions of that world are big fish. But fish travel in schools because they know it is their best chance of not only survival but thriving.

Fact: I still hate football, but at least now, thanks to Friday Night Lights, I don't put all of those ill-feelings over on the players.

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