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Controversial TV show pushes tiny football players too far

February 28, 2014 - Shaunna Dunder Hershberger
What makes good television according to the Esquire Network? How about watching 8- and 9-year-olds bash into each other as hard as they can?

That's the basic premise of Esquire's polarizing TV show "Friday Night Tykes," which showcases the rookies division (the 8- and 9-year old kids) of the Texas Youth Football Association. Parents and coaches on the show argue that they're teaching their kids valuable lessons about discipline, dedication and teamwork -- these things are "normal" to them. To some of the viewing public, however, the show borders on child abuse.

I have watched a few episodes of the show, and while the concept seems somewhat interesting, the first few times you watch little kids ramming each other helmet to helmet, it makes you sick to your stomach.

Understand, the professionals sometimes don't even know how to tackle correctly and can sometimes lead with their helmets. These are little kids learning to play the game. This league is a full contact hitting league, and with these kids hitting each other this hard, it's a head or neck injury waiting to happen when a kid doesn't use the right technique to make a tackle.

Couple that with the disparity in size of these kids. Kids in that age range can vary greatly in size, and when you've got some 50-pounds-soaking-wet kid trying to run the football against a monster twice his size, again, you have to question how safe this hard hitting really is.

With the concussion situation in the NFL currently under much more scrutiny, thanks to shows like PBS's League of Denial and the concussion lawsuit put forth by a group of former NFL players, I wonder why a show like Friday Night Tykes pops up now? Hitting is now especially criticized in youth football, and the way this show highlights big hits is unnerving. Coaches encourage kids to hit other kids so hard that they don't care if they even get up (one coach was suspended for saying things like this and has since apologized).

I happened to watch a show where a tiny kid got absolutely hammered in practice -- he was hit so hard that he immediately began to cry. Of course he's going to cry! He's 8-years-old!! The coach then berated the child for crying. Even the NFL itself expressed concern over the amount of head-to-head contact and violence shown during the show. Yes, the NFL, show me the big hits, expresses CONCERN. That right there should tell you something.

And it's not just the violence that bothers me on this show. It's the way the coaches and even the parents treat these kids. They're treated like they're adults. One coach yelled at his team after a particularly difficult practice (many kids were exhausted and crying) and told them it was time for them to "cut the cord". Do you think an 8- or 9-year-old even knows what that phrase means? What ever happened to just letting kids be kids?

I'm not sure why the good concepts of playing football -- teamwork, leadership, responsibility and determination -- can't be taught WITHOUT the hitting? Little kids do not need to play tackle football. Period. Tackling shouldn't even be introduced until at least seventh or eighth grade.

Controversial TV makes for interesting TV. However, it's up for debate as to whether or not Esquire will run a second season. The series was only allotted 10 episodes, but a quick check on the Friday Night Tykes website showed the most recent episode airing on Feb. 25 was episode 6 of 6, with no option to click to a future episode.

Whether or not the show remains on the air, the debate about how far to push little kids in football will always be a hot topic.


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