As passionate fans of the Friday Night Lights TV series will tell you, you don’t need to care that much about football itself to care deeply about the carefully drawn characters of that much-loved small town drama. Something similar can almost be said of the Esquire Network’s returning youth sports docu-series Friday Night Tykes, but there’s a frankly shocking level of car crash brutality—that’s all being egged on by the “adults” in charge—that completely subverts what you think this show is going to be all about.
Friday Night Tykes focuses on the teams of the Texas Youth Football Association, the most popular, competitive and well-supported league of its kind in the United States. TYFA also has a reputation for controversy, and for the violent intensity of its pre-teen players, some who are as young as eight or nine. There is no size limit for these kids, either. The bigger the better. And did I mention the crazy parents? TYFA’s got its share of lunatics in the bleachers.
As season two starts, we get a recap of some of the most eyebrow-raising moments from last year. Answering the big question in many viewers’ minds (“WHAT IN THE HELL ARE THESE PEOPLE THINKING?!?!?!”) some of the coaches from the first series are gone, one for flagrantly encouraging viciously unsportsmanlike behavior (all of which this psycho was, for some reason, completely unashamed to allow the Esquire Network’s cameras to capture). There is a “welcome to the Terrordome” element to the TYFA—these little kids are encouraged to act like MMA gladiators. Tackle ‘em sure, but make sure to hurt ‘em real bad when ya do it. In TYFA, the all-American sport is sport is often enacted with the sort of violence associated with backyard wrestling. They just need to outfit their eight-year-old fullbacks with 2x4s and nunchucks and stop beating around the bush.
To be honest, I was left mouth-agape by this show within the opening moments. The thing that will probably occur to you as you watch it, as it did to me, is that these people are willing to subject their own children to something that is not really a great distance from cagefighting, but cagefighting done with little kids who are crying and puking! It’s so twisted! Some of the parents are so harsh, aggressive and downright nasty towards their children in public that you don’t have to use your imagination much to wonder how they might behave in the privacy of their own homes.
A narrator asks “But how hard is too hard? [Pediatricians warn against any sort of full body tackle until a child is at least 14 years of age] How far is too far? [Just wait!] Is youth sports truly about the kids, or is it truly about the parents?”
That last question is left shrewdly unanswered by the filmmakers.
Watch the entire first episode of the Esquire Network’s second season of Friday Night Tykes here.
Below, the trailer: