Friday Night Lights

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Themes and Colors
Football Theme Icon
Race and Racial Divisions Theme Icon
Wealth, Poverty, and the Boom-Bust Cycle Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Winning, Losing, and a Purpose in Life Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Friday Night Lights, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Race and Racial Divisions Theme Icon

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 ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Race and Racial Divisions appears in each chapter of Friday Night Lights. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Race and Racial Divisions Quotes in Friday Night Lights

Below you will find the important quotes in Friday Night Lights related to the theme of Race and Racial Divisions.
Prologue Quotes

Boobie stood in the corner of the darkened room with his arms folded . . . ‘I quit, coach, they got a good season goin’.’

Related Characters: Boobie Miles (speaker), Nate Hearne
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

Boobie is upset that his season might be over, and that he won't get a chance to prove himself on the field because of his injury. Football has helped Boobie to escape a difficult childhood, and his caretaker, LV, has encouraged Boobie to focus on being a great running back, perhaps at the expense of Boobie's classroom education. So there is a lot riding on Boobie's time at Permian; he can only go to college if he receives an athletic scholarship.

But this passage is also tinged with the racial politics that run throughout the book. Black coaches for the Permian Panthers tend to support black players, and white coaches white players. Sometimes white coaches express the idea that certain black players are more concerned with their individual achievements than with team ones. These criticisms aren't fair, nor are they grounded in reasoned opinions. Instead, Permian exhibits the same racial prejudices—largely of white Americans against Latino/a and African Americans—that can be found throughout Texas, and indeed throughout the country, toward the end of the twentieth century. 


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Chapter 3: Boobie Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Boobie Miles (speaker)
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

Boobie is repeating what is, for the players, a common refrain: that winning the state championships would be a crowning achievement in life. Boobie says this because, it must be admitted, he wants some of the glory for himself. But the truth is, all the players for Permian want some of this personal glory—and all the players enjoy the adulation they receive from classmates when they walk through the halls. Boobie is no exception to this.

What is perhaps different, for Boobie, is the centrality of football to his life, both as a young man and as a young African American man in Odessa. For others on the team, there are lives of potential that unfold beyond the football field, as gainful employment is easily available to them after a stint in college. These opportunities are technically available to Boobie as well, but anti-black prejudice in Odessa is a powerful thing. Boobie (when he is successful) is an emblem of the team's football power, when otherwise he is rarely treated by his white classmates as a person deserving of respect. Thus, for Boobie, football success takes on other layers of importance. 

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 . . . .

Related Characters: Boobie Miles (speaker), Trapper
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

This is an extension of Boobie's desires as expressed in the quotation above. For Boobie, playing in college and in the pros is a way of continuing the kind of adulation and personal affirmation he receives as a high-school player. Although these are very difficult dreams to achieve, Boobie believes—and perhaps rightfully so—that he has the talent to make it. And as above, a professional football career is one of a relatively limited set of options available to young African American men in the region. 

What Boobie unfortunately does not have, and what is also required to succeed in football beyond college, is a good deal of luck, especially with injuries. Football is a brutal sport, and people are often injured so severely they cannot return to the field for months, or a year—or ever. Boobie's knee injury is serious enough to limit his explosiveness, which causes him to lose his ability to "cut" on the field. This loss means he is a less highly-touted recruit.

Chapter 5: Black and White Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker), Laurence Hurd (speaker)
Related Symbols: Black and White
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

Hurd points to an important component of the "Mojo" experience—that it is reserved primarily for white fans. This does not mean that black players can't participate and help the team. Indeed, coaches are all too happy to play whichever players will give the Panthers the best chance of winning the state tournament. But the special adulation of the "Mojo" fans is often reserved for the white stars, who are showered with praise.

Hurd is therefore acknowledging that Panthers football reflects, in a frustrating and profound way, the racial divisions of Texas (and Southern, and American) society well into the twentieth century, even after the gains of the Civil Rights era. Although everyone is permitted to play on the team—as would be legally required—the way the town treats, and celebrates, its players still falls into the same categories of racial bias. 

Chapter 6: The Ambivalence of Ivory Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker), Ivory Christian, Pastor Hanson
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

Pastor Hanson recognizes that Ivory's religious feeling is genuine. But he also knows that Permian football players are accustomed to all manner of "special treatment"—they are celebrities in the community. Ivory's desire to become a more active member of the church is grounded in his willingness to learn and to educate. He also sees religion as a means of orienting and directing his life outside football.

But the allure of the football team remains strong for Ivory. This isn't to say that Christian values and Permian's football culture are incompatible—indeed, many of the players pray before they play the game. But Ivory's active involvement in his church takes time away from practice and preparation on the field. Eventually, it is the pull of a possible college football career, and not religion, that will direct Ivory's life in Odessa. 

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.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker)
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

Bissinger notes here that, although the team might (occasionally) lose, the allure of Permian football is powerful enough to maintain student interest. The expectation, of course, is that the team will eventually recover, and that players will again be perceived as gods in the town. Football players will receive special treatment, special allowances for missed homework and absences from school—in short, the football machinery of Permian High will continue to chug along.

But when the team still celebrates despite not winning a particular game, what is missing is the feeling of invincibility that the squad has cultivated. Bissinger implies here that even the most successful teams will, eventually, graduate, and be forced into a world in which winning and losing are not so clearly demarcated. In these circumstances, players must cope with a new set of "rules" determining how adults behave. The envy that current students feel for current football players then turns into a much more distant respect for former players. 

Chapter 8: East Versus West Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker)
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

Bissinger underscores here just how "imagined" the community of Permian football really is. It belongs not to the entirety of Odessa but only to the wealthier east side of town—and there have been rumblings that, perhaps, Odessa High might be merged with Permian. This upsets many boosters, who feel that Permian has a special place in the area's culture, one that should not be messed with.

Of course, this "culture" is also tinged with racial politics. Permian is a largely white district. And though there are black players on the team, some of whom are stars, these players appear to fill a very particular role on the team (in the eyes of certain white players and fans). Black players, in other words, can contribute to Permian football, and help the team win, but they cannot ever be full members of the football community that is defined by the (largely white) "Mojo mystique."

Chapter 9: Friday Night Politics Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker), Brian Chavez, Tony Chavez
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

Tony, Brian's father, grew up in relative poverty near El Paso, Texas. For him, as Bissinger relates, education was something largely reserved for white families. Tony had to work extra hard merely to find for himself the opportunities that might have been readily available to—and indeed ignored by—white families living nearby. This makes Tony's rise in life and his ability to provide for Brian all the more extraordinary, coming as it does in the face of significant obstacles.

Brian is motivated by his father's experiences, and has a slightly different attitude toward the game of football than do others on the team. Brian knows, in short, that Permian football is not forever. He understands the importance of an education that moves beyond the boom-bust lifestyle of Odessa and Texas more broadly. He sees that a life of hard work might not be as glorious as a life of professional football, but it is also a dream more readily realizable and more stable. 

Chapter 10: Boobie Who? Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker), Boobie Miles, LV
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:

LV understands that football, and then the lack of football, have severe emotional effects on Boobie. Boobie was immensely successful at a very young age, and was injured according to a stroke of bad luck—there was nothing he could do to prevent the tearing of his ACL. The depression Boobie feels, severe as it is, is an indicator of what awaits, in some form,for  many Permian players after their high-school football days are over. This is the boom-bust of the high-school star's career. First there is great acclaim, and the power of the "Friday Night Lights." But later there is an entire life to live, and very little direction as to how to live it.

After Boobie has been injured, LV recognizes that perhaps it was not the best policy for him, and for Boobie, to place so much emphasis on a college and pro career in football. But their gamble is an understandable one, as football provides a way out of relative poverty for so many in the Odessa community (and particularly for young black men). 

Chapter 15: The Algebraic Equation Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker), Will Bates
Page Number: 335
Explanation and Analysis:

Bissinger is perhaps most critical in this chapter of the book—critical of a competitive football culture that he believes can destroy people's lives. Will Bates has done nothing other than what he believes to be right. He has attempted to hold a football player to the same academic standard as any other student in the high school. But because football plays an outsized role in the town's self-conception—because football players are central to the total success of the school—their academic work is of little importance to most people.

Bissinger implies that the students who are supposedly "privileged" by this system when they are athletes are actually not well served once they leave school. They have been exempted from an education they deserved, in order to play a game for the delight of school administrators and fans.