The Permian Panthers are, of course, the football team for Permian High School—although, in Bissinger’s account, it’s clear that football is the priority for many Texas schools rather than a comprehensive high-school educational program. Bissinger notes that SAT scores and other indicators of performance are especially low in Odessa and West Texas, although the entire state lags behind many others in the country, as far as the strength of its high schools. Bissinger argues that football players receive preferential treatment—including one player at Carter High near Dallas, whose scores in Algebra II are effectively doctored by the district, so that the player remains academically eligible. Bissinger is continually shocked by the willingness of school administrators to cut corners academically in order to ensure success athletically. Permian High players, however, are not all bad students. Some work harder than others, especially Brian Chavez, whose academic excellence is matched only by his passion for football.
Bissinger argues, however, that football warps the academic culture of places like Permian—making things far too easy for athletes, and lowering the standards generally, so that all students in the school don’t work as hard as they could. Bissinger quotes teachers from Odessa high schools, who claim that standards have eroded over the years, and that, perhaps, the rampant culture of football is to blame.
For Bissinger, however, football is a part of these young men’s educational experience—the coaches do teach them things, and the players work extremely hard during the year to become outstanding football players. The question, then, is whether they learn the right lessons. Gary Gaines, the head coach, tends to support his players, and to ask of them to give their best effort. Gaines can be a tough coach, but he doesn’t scream at his players, and he’s in fact accused of being too soft on them, especially when the team is losing. Other assistants, however, do curse at the players, accuse them of being lazy, and otherwise argue that football is about a gladiator-like toughness. Bissinger argues that some of the lessons football instills are important ones: especially teamwork and a commitment to something outside the self. But, Bissinger goes on, some other “football lessons,” like the overwhelming pressure placed on winning, seem at best misbegotten, and, at worst, detrimental to the future lives of the young players, who are, after all, learning these lessons in high school, at an impressionable age.
Education Quotes in Friday Night Lights
There were a few who found its conservatism maddening and dangerous and many more who found it the essence of what America should be, an America built on strength and the spirit of individualism, not an America built on handouts and food stamps.
The standing ovation that he received at the Watermelon Feed wasn’t particularly surprising. Just as he was used to football injuries, he was also used to lavish attention, as was every former Permian player who had once been ordained a star. So many people had come up to him when he was a senior that he couldn’t keep track of their names . . . .
After Billy died, Mike’s life didn’t get any easier. He had a brother who was sent to prison for stealing. At home he lived with his mother, who worked at a service station convenience store as a clerk. They didn’t have much money. . . . His mother was enormously quiet and reserved, almost like a phantom. Coach Gaines, who spent almost as much time dealing with parents as he did with the players, had never met her.
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.
We know that OHS is going to be fired to the hilt and I want to match them emotion for emotion . . . It’s gonna be a big crowd. It’s an exciting game. I wish everybody that has an opportunity to play the gam of football all over the United States had an opportunity to play in a game like this. You’re part of a select group.
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.
His ear had been throbbing for about two months, and it was just one of several ailments that had come up during the course of the season. He was glassy-eyed and barely able to say a word, his thoughts still fixed on what had happened on the field . . . .
How could he have called the plays he did? What had happened to him in the second half, going time and time again with those plodding, thudding sweeps? Didn’t he remember the gorgeous bomb Winchell had thrown in the second quarter, so perfect it was like something in a dream? . . . .
As he tried to console them, there came a sound of high school football as familiar as the cheering, as familiar as the unabashed blare of the band . . . it was the sound of teenage boys weeping uncontrollably over a segment of their lives that they knew had just ended forever.
Dear God, we’re thankful for this day, we’re thankful for this opportunity you’ve given us to display the talent that you’ve blessed us with. Heavenly Father, we thank you for these men and these black jersies, tank you for the ability that you’ve given ‘em and the character that you’ve given ‘em.
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.