Bissinger explores the racial divides that he finds during his investigation of football in the region. Texas, like many states in the South, has a checkered history since Brown vs. Board of Education, in the mid-50’s, the Supreme Court case which mandated the desegregation of public schools. Originally, there were Odessa and Ector high schools in Ector County, where Odessa is located. Odessa High was largely white, and filled mostly with members of the “downtown” community in Odessa, which was wealthier. Ector, on the other hand, was located on the Southside, on “the other side of the tracks” figuratively and literally. Ector High was largely African American and Latino in its student population.
Ector did not have enough students—or so it was claimed—for a football team, and Odessa High, until the early 1960s, was the football powerhouse in the region. Then, in the ‘60s, Permian High was formed on the east side of town, a wealthier community even than the downtown, which drew white families away from Odessa High. Permian became the new football powerhouse, well into the 1980s and including the events of the book (the 1988 season). Odessa High, for its part, became a largely Latino district with a mediocre football team, and Ector was closed as part of an originally well-intentioned, but ultimately failed, attempt to integrate the county’s schools. In fact, Permian was accused by members of the Odessa High community of redrawing football boundaries to ensure that, if black students were going to come to Permian, they would be black students capable of improving the football team. Odessa tended not to be able to “recruit” students from the Southside.
Many stereotypes about different ethnic groups crop up throughout the book. Bissinger quotes some whites in Odessa as arguing that African American players tend to be athletically superior but somehow intellectually lacking. African Americans play some positions—including running back—but no mention is ever made of a black quarterback, certainly not for Permian. Latino players are also denigrated as not having the right stuff for big-time Texas football. White players, by contrast, are often lauded for their “heart” and “hard work.” Bissinger is also struck by the casual use of derogatory racial language on the part of whites in the community. African Americans, in the view of many whites in the Odessa region, are mostly important insofar as they can help the Permian Panthers win a state title.
While Bissinger’s portrayal shows a town in which racial reconciliation seems difficult, if not impossible, to solve, Bissinger does suggest that the players tend to relate to one another directly, without as much concern for stereotypical narratives. One player, Brian Chavez, of the Permian Panthers, is Latino, son of a lawyer, valedictorian of his class, and off to Harvard at the end of the book. Players like and respect Chavez, viewing him as a leader in the locker room. Despite this, however, some racial stereotypes seem not to fade away. The black player Boobie Miles, for his part, leaves the team and is derided by the mostly white coaching staff, who feel that Miles cares more about his own performance than the improvement of the team’s fate.
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Race and Racial Divisions Quotes in Friday Night Lights
Boobie stood in the corner of the darkened room with his arms folded . . . ‘I quit, coach, they got a good season goin’.’
My last year . . . I want to win State. You get your picture took and a lot of college people look at you. When you get old, you say, you know, I went to State in nineteen eighty-eight.
I won’t be able to play college football, man . . . It’s real important. It’s all I ever wanted to do. I want to make it in the pros . . . .
It wasn’t necessary to live in Odessa for long to realize that the Permian football team wasn’t just a high school team but a sacrosanct white institution. “Mojo seemed to have a mystical charm to it,” Hurd said.
Pastor Hanson welcomed Ivory’s conversion. He knew that Ivory was an influential kid whose actions made a tremendous impression on his peers. But there was something worrisome about it, and he didn’t want Ivory moving from one world of isolation into another where the only difference was the level of standards.
They would still be gladiators, the ones who were envied by everyone else . . . who got the best girls and laughed the loudest and strutted so proudly through the halls of school as if it was their own wonderful, private kingdom.
The Mojo mystique was purely an east-side creation, and Permian supporters would almost certainly put up a hellacious fight if they were suddenly told they had to share it with people who didn’t act like them or think like them.
When Tony was Brian’s age, the thought of college, any college, was as funny as it was ridiculous. Just getting through high school was miracle enough, and the way Tony and most other kids from South El Paso looked at it, everything after that in life was gravy, a gift.
For LV, watching Boobie play against Abilene had been harrowing. On every play he couldn’t help but worry that his nephew would do further damage to his knee, even though the brace did provide good protection. He saw the emotional effect the injury was having on Boobie—the prolonged periods of depression as one Friday night after another just came and went.
Will Bates was drummed out of Carter and reassigned to teach industrial arts in a middle school. He was given an unsatisfactory evaluation rating, placed on probation for a year, and had his salary frozen. And, of course, he was forbidden to teach and to prevent further threats to the sanctity of football.