Book/Movie Review: Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights

If you and I both sit down and look at Van Gogh’s Starry Night, we are likely to come away with two very different opinions on the painting. People interpret things differently, they see the world in varying lights. A vast array of viewpoints is what makes judging material so interesting. In many instances, there can be no wrong answer due to the large quantity of mindsets that exist. In this sense, comparing the novel “Friday Night Lights” written by H.G. Bissinger to its film adaptation of the same name is incredibly difficult. Both are spectacular and widely praised by critics. However, underneath the surface of the main plot exists differences between the two. They are separate takes on the same story.

Both stories center on the West Texas town of Odessa and the local high school football team, the Permian Panthers. The focus lies with the town’s complete involvement with the team and the unique athletes who sacrifice for the team. In the most basic sense, the football program represents the identity of the town and its residents. The program is a necessary outlet, a distraction from the underlying economic and racial issues that plague Odessa.

Permian Panthers

The Movie

The movie is an excellent addition to the cinematic sports genre. The dialogue and acting is convincing and the story is relatable and real. You leave the theatre focusing more on the human elements of the story rather than the football.

Billy Bob Thorton admirably headlines a mostly unknown cast, carefully teetering between gruff authoritarian and gentle caretaker. Several of the younger actors hold their own as well. Derek Luke oozes charisma and confidence while also doing a fantastic job of revealing the softer side of injured star running back Boobie Miles. Lucas Black impressively underplays the reserved and focused starting quarterback Mike Winchell.

The film’s cinematography and editing is also an attention grabber. The movie carefully sets the tone with tinted shots of the barren land in and surrounding the mostly impoverished town. We get a sense of the rustic and simple life that exists outside of the football stadium.

One element of the movie that did not ring true, however, are the few fictional liberties taken by director Peter Berg. For example, the undercurrent of racism that divided the town is severely downplayed in the film. The racial tensions that threatened both the team and the town are more or less phased out for more focused story telling. Also, in order to cut down on running time, the film’s focus on individual players is fairly limited to Winchell, Miles and Don Billingsley.

FNL Movie Pic

The Book

The book delves into more detail with its characters who are so rich and multi layered, you would swear it was all fiction. Bissinger takes the time to introduce the reader to several members of the football team and provide us with an in-depth glimpse into their lives. After he establishes many of these characters, Bissinger is then able to give the reader some insight into their minds. By cataloguing their home lives and upbringing, talking and interviewing the players extensively, and examining their choices and motivations, the reader gets an incredibly real sense for who these people truly were at that time. More so than the film version. It’s like you’re reading an entertaining and vivid documentary.

While the movie does a great job, the book presents a better sense of Winchell’s innate separateness, Miles’ heartbreaking downfall and several other personal stories witnessed during the course of the season.

Perhaps the biggest difference is Bissinger’s intense examination of the racial and economic issues engulfing Odessa. Bissinger even provides a detailed history of the civil rights movements that took place in the town long before this team came into existence. This focus provides a more worldly view of what is admittedly a provincial and prejudiced town. It allows the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the identity of Odessa and its unique culture. Every town has its skeletons, but the race relations and economic divide that existed in Odessa is a fascinating inspection of what is considered a true American town.

Overall, Bissinger’s novel is the superior story of the two. Both are fantastically entertaining and come highly recommended by both book and film critics. However, the expanded scope of the book makes for a more moving and memorable experience.

FNL Book

“42” Reverberates into today’s sports world

42What is amazing about quality period pieces is the ability to draw parallels between that particular time and the present. To use the past or the future as a window into the current makes everything feel a bit more real. The Jackie Robinson biopic “42” does exactly that.

“42” is a fine sports movie although it is nothing special. I left the theatre entertained and enlightened in certain aspects of Robinson’s journey, but this movie will be up for no awards. What the film did do well is highlight the brutality Robinson was met with on a daily basis. The seething opposition aimed at one man was truly horrendous, but accurate. Overall, the film is a poignant examination of intolerance, ignorance and cruelty among the masses.

Jackie RobinsonBreaking barriers is an immense challenge. While I am extremely proud and thankful that Jackie Robinson had the emotional and mental fortitude to accomplish such a change, the work is not over. Today, we face a new barrier.

The sexual orientation barrier.

There is not a single openly gay active athlete in America’s four major sports (NBA, NHL, MLB, NFL). Players have come out but only after retiring. Is our sports culture so single minded that closeted gay athletes are afraid to come out? Will they be met with the same vitriol that Robinson was once forced to endure?

Magic--Gay AthletesOf course, there are some examples of courageous honesty that are met with nothing but support. Brittney Griner, the likely number one overall pick in the WNBA draft, recently confirmed the rumors of her sexual orientation. “Be who you are” Griner said in her statement. All Robinson wanted to be was a ballplayer but for the longest time the public wouldn’t let him, only because he was a littler different than them.

Change is a slow process. It takes years to gain full acceptance in some instances. We can only hope that society has changed enough that a gay athletes would even be a blip on the radar anymore.

Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker, Brendon Ayanbadejo, has expressed his staunch support for gay marriage and worked hard to spread acceptance throughout the NFL. In fact, Ayanbadejo says that they are in talks with up to four current players about coming out publicly. This would forever shift the landscape for gay athletes and truly test the sports culture’s readiness for such a change. But, what would be the reaction both in and outside of the locker room?

Hate MailLet us hope that unlike in Robinson’s era, we do not see everything in black and white.

Instead, let us hope for a little rainbow-color in there.

Boston Marathon: Sports medicine

Boston MarathonThe tragedy that occurred at the Boston Marathon on Monday is unspeakable. There are no words to explain why such terrible things happen in this world. There is no way to console those affected by this horrible act. The motivations and choices of a small minority of evil people in the world can never be fully understood.

The Boston Bruins and Celtics cancelled their games in the wake of the bombings. Cognizant of a grieving and shocked area, this was the right thing to do. Somethings in life are more important than sports.

But what are the teams and people of Boston to do now?

Chicago--Boston SupportSports can serve as an important distraction and outlet in times such as these. It doesn’t matter if the Bruins and Celtics win a single game the rest of the season. But when they return, it is imperative that they play hard night in and night out. The best way to pay their respects to all those affected by these bombings is to show that they will never stop fighting. They now hold an entire community’s heart in their hands. 

Sports can be a metaphor for life and its stories can extend far beyond an arena or stadium. The immense heart that is necessary to overcome adversity is shared by the citizens and athletes of Boston. 

These professional teams have an opportunity to help heal an entire region. Fans want to become lost in the game, consumed by their enjoyment of their favorite teams. Communities can persevere, drawing inspiration from their local teams. Play hard, if not for the team’s sake than for the recovering fan base’s. Set the tone for the state of Boston.

In these horrible instances, sports can be the most cathartic medicine for the soul.

Kevin Ware injury: To show or not to show?

The above video is the gruesome leg injury Kevin Ware of Louisville suffered against Duke. Before watching it, I must warn that it is very graphic.

Personally, I hate watching any type of stomach-churning injury. I’ve seen the Ware replay no more than twice. The last time I saw the cringe inducing hit on Willis McGahee‘s knee was more than eight years ago. Haven’t watched it since.

But, does that singular opinion mean it shouldn’t be shown at all?

Kevin Ware

CBS decided to pull the replay of Ware’s injury during the airing of the game. Similarly, the clip couldn’t be found on that night’s airing of Sports Center. I’m not complaining, but I think it is time that we as a culture decide what we are willing to have on television.

There seems to be a severe disconnect between content we mind and don’t mind. It’s truly shocking that the Ware injury was censored so swiftly and without any real opposition. At the same time, the Saigon Execution has been shown on the History Channel for years. The first time I saw it, I was only 13-years-old.

Saigon Execution

What is more disturbing: a compound fracture suffered during a basketball game or a nonchalant public murder? I don’t know about all of you, but the latter stays with me much much more. If we are willing to show that to any demographic on educational channels, then why are we so afraid to show a basketball injury? Yes, it’s certainly not pleasant to watch. But no more difficult to take in than a real life killing.

Ultimately, we need to draw a line regarding the graphic content we will and will not release. There needs to be a clear consistency when it comes to censorship. No more tip-toeing around what might or might not upset the audience. If the media believe we are capable of maturely handling a real life murder, then they shouldn’t limit other controversial subject matter for the sake of viewer comfort.

It’s time to pay College Athletes

College Athletes should be paidDoes the loch ness monster exist?

What is in the Mariana’s Trench?

Should college athletes be paid?

All questions for the ages that have no definitive answer. Many speculate and offer their own thoughts. But, few can come to a common ground.

College PiadFrom an extremely outside perspective, I believe players should be compensated in some form. After all, football and basketball programs generate millions in revenue for top tier schools. However, University signed paychecks fall into an extremely gray area, even if legalized by the NCAA.

My proposal: why not let student athletes make their own money? An athlete should be compensated for use of their likeness by outside sources. If some memorabilia store right down the street from school is plastering Geno Smith’s face on their shirts, why shouldn’t he see any money for that?

Players should be allowed to copyright and profit from certain saying or images while still in school. “Fear the Brow,” “Tebowing,” any of those forays into pop culture should be met with monetary reward for the player.

As long as it doesn’t interfere with university activities, student athletes should be permitted to appear at events for money. Why shouldn’t a sports bar be allowed to pay Johnny Manziel for an all day signing event?

College paidI understand that schools want to protect their players. They are young people with little experience in a professional business world. Many will try and take advantage of them.

But, if the NCAA is unwilling to pay college athletes, than the players should be permitted to seek out a profit from sources unaffiliated and unrelated to the universities they attend. It seems simpler to compensate athletes in a manner not involved with the NCAA. This would remove the burden of regulation from the NCAA’s shoulders, allowing the free market to dictate what a student athlete can possibly make.

I don’t believe the system as currently constructed can continue for much longer. As revenues grow and player’s brands expand, it will be nearly impossible to get through a season without an illogical rule infraction. So, why not dissolve the problem completely and allow college athletes to try and make their own money?

Miami Heat streak means nothing without a ring

LBJ dunking

The Miami Heat are in the midst of a 23 game winning streak, the second longest in NBA history. With their game tonight against LeBron James‘ old pals, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Heat have a chance to make it 24 straight Ws.

I’ve only got one thing to say to that: so what?

This streak doesn’t matter one bit. Ask the 2008 Houston Rockets. This is kid stuff. Sure, it’s impressive. Sure, it would be cool if the Heat matched or broke the ’71-’72 Lakers streak of 33 straight victories. But James, Dwayne Wade and the rest of the SuperFriends are here for one thing only: Rings.

It’s championship or bust for the Heat.

Heat Champison

They’ve got legacies to consider. Yes, breaking the all time record would add another section to the resume. But nothing speaks louder than championship jewelry. So what would be the point of this streak if the Miami Heat come up empty handed in the playoffs?

The NBA doesn’t deal in moral victories. No one will value the winning streak over a championship. If the Heat are as committed to breaking the record as they claim to be, so be it. But they better be the last team standing if that is the case. With only one more guaranteed year together, this could be this version of the Heat’s last chance for another trophy.

DWade Champion

Michael Jordan never lost a series in the Finals. Bill Russell took home 11 championships. If James wants to be mentioned in the same breath as those guys, he can’t afford a third Finals ousting.

It’s all well and good that the Heat are playing at such a high level. It’s impressive that they are going after the winning streak with such ferocity. But it’s important that they don’t lose sight of the ultimate goal for this lesser one.

This streak will mean absolutely nothing if it doesn’t culminate in a Ring.

Redefining success in the NFL

Calvin Johnson

In life, there are certain benchmarks that indicate accomplishment. These indicators are tangible symbols of success.

Numbers often times provide the road map of a success for a given field.

But, what happens when those numbers are no longer as indicative as they once were? When benchmarks become outdated, when they no longer reliably reflect success, progress and perception?

AJ Green

In sports, attaining a 1000-yard receiving season in the NFL is considered upper-echelon.

Dig deeper and recent trends suggest that these numbers are not as trustworthy as once believed.

The gold standard of 1000-yard seasons for pass catchers no long indicates elite talent. Twenty pass catchers reached this mark last season. 19 players reached it the year before. 

The NFL is rapidly shifting towards aerial based offenses. As a result, the league has become saturated with pass catchers. The plethora of options closes the gap between talent classes.

Wes Welker

No box score can truly convince me that players such as Michael Crabtree and Jordy Nelson are among the elite WRs of the NFL. Guys like them may have some talent, but they are far from being considered the best at their positions. It’s like the mirage of stardom American Idol casts over its contestants. Sure, they’ve all got amazing skill. But, the majority of winners eventually fade away after their lone victorious season.

Offenses can no longer be judged by whether or not they contain a true No. 1 WR who consistently tops 1000 yards. The game has changed and it’s time the way we view it changes as well.

The Miami Heat mean business

Miami HeatThe Miami Heat have now won 16 straight games with their victory over the Orlando Magic. During that span, LeBron James has been the model of efficiency (64% from the field in the month of February), Dwayne Wade has averaged nearly 25 points, and the entire teams has gelled together.

If this winning streak doesn’t cement that as the favorite to win it all then I don’t know what will. There are no other truly elite teams in the field.

The Oklahoma City Thunder couldn’t get the job done last year after taking a 1-0 series lead. They’ve subsequently gotten slightly worse after trading James Harden. The San Antonio Spurs just lost Tony Parker for four weeks. There is no way to tell how game ready he will be come playoff time. The Los Angeles Clippers are still a notch below elite. Their fantastic bench will matter less in the playoffs as starters play more minutes.

Durant and WestbrookThere isn’t a single team in the Eastern Conference that poses a true threat to the Heat over a seven game series. Indiana has the league’s top defense but as we witnessed last year, that is merely an inconvenience for James, Wade, Bosh and co. It isn’t a stopping point.

Don’t be surprised when Miami hoists their second consecutive championship trophy. No other team in the NBA can stop them.

LeBron James & the Dunk Contest

In the above video, Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless debate whether or not LeBron James should be influenced by Magic Johnson’s $1 million offer to participate in the dunk contest.

I am a fan of the NBA. Obviously, I would love to see James throw down his vicious dunks in the contest. But James has turned down the opportunity for 10 years now. I think it is about time we all accept the fact that he just doesn’t want to participate in the dunk contest.

LBJ dunking

And you know what? There is nothing wrong with that.

We get so caught up in what we want these athletes to do or how we want them to act that we forget that they are people too. They have their own preferences and behaviors. It is perfectly acceptable for them resist the public’s wishes. How would you feel if someone else dictated your whole life?

Let’s all stop whining and just move on. The dude doesn’t want to do it. It isn’t the end of the world.

NFL: Contract killers

Joe FlaccoWord broke recently that Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will be the NFL’s highest paid player. The two parties have agreed to a six-year deal worth $120.6 million.

Excuse me? Come again?

Is this the same Joe Flacco whose completion percentage has been under 60% the last two seasons? The same Joe Flacco whose career post-season percentage is 55.5%?

Joe Flacco 2Now I understand that Flacco is coming off a very impressive post-season run. He is the reigning Super Bowl MVP and has won nine playoff games.

But is he worthy of the richest contract in NFL history?

Well, is Charlie Sheen a role model for kids?

No chance.

This is still the same guy who gets rattled when pressure is in his face. This is still the same guy who was at the helm of a listless Ravens team at the end of the season. Do four great playoff games completely erase the frequent periods of offensive stagnancy that has plagued Baltimore the last couple years?

Joe Flacco 3

Joe Flacco is a solid quarterback who has won some big games. But he is not more valuable in terms of dollars and on field performance than Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees. You could make the argument that a hand full of other QBs are more valuable as well.

As my brother smartly pointed out, most of the major contracts are dictated by the market and not actual value. Supply and demand are going to jack up prices for prime time free agents. But I still don’t see the logic here. Baltimore could have easily made Flacco a top five paid QB instead of sacrificing the ability to add talent to a roster that has some holes.

Everyone knew Baltimore had to pay the man. But they didn’t need to be an accomplice to robbery.