Archive for Thursday, February 3, 2005

Opinion: ‘Lights lesson

February 3, 2005

In today's jaded sports climate, when fresh rides, bling-bling and the accomplishments of the individual outweigh that of the team, rare are the moments that capture the essence of why sports are so important.

Even less common are the times that those worthy qualities of sports -- a near extinct animal long since buried in the blitz-like urge to secure fat contracts, shoe deals and the ultimate highlight -- are capsulated on the silver screen.

Enter "Friday Night Lights."

Reading either the best selling book, written by H.G. Bissinger, or watching the movie, recently released on DVD, can curb those ills, if only for a brief period. Maybe the tale isn't a cure all and in some instances it's a precautionary one, but for the most part 'Lights' provides a reminder that at its truest form sports is about more than the unholy trinity that plague the game so often -- money, self-interest and dirty play.

In a nutshell, "Friday Night Lights" is the tale of a small Texas town that, in a frenzy resembling a cult, is locked into a fanatical craze when it comes to its high school football team.

For the cynic, the book or movie will fail to breach the notion that a high school football coach can earn more money than the school principal, that a star running back who's season was lost to injury would be so callous as to abandon his team, or that a father, so intent on his son's football success and disappointed at its progress thus far, would berate the child in brutal fashion.

For those skeptics, and reasonably so, those are fair assessments. Indeed, 'Lights' is not one that completely warms the heart like movies such as "The Natural", "Field of Dreams", or "Hoosiers." It provides a tale much more complicated. It reminds us that the guy in the white hat doesn't always win, and that not everyone marches into the sunset victorious.

But, for the believers out there, me being one of them, who want to forget about the craven state of today's games, the story will provide a more worthy tale than any that have come before it. We'll have taken a journey with peaks and valleys and upon its completion will feel that we've laid witness to the humanity of it all.

We'll catch a glimpse into the win-or-else pressures faced by that same highly-paid coach and be reassured when those pressures fail to quash his morals or the love of his players. We'll be captivated by that once egotistical star running back, who, at his team's dire hour of need, returns to cheer his mates.

We might even get emotional when that father, until then a redneck thug, consoles his son and (stop reading immediately if you haven't read the book or seen the movie) places his own championship ring on his child's finger after a soul crushing defeat.

I read 'Lights' while I was young and still foolishly captivated by the power, prestige and dignity of sports. That was before O.J., Tyson, Kobe, Ray Lewis and Barry Bonds. That was before labor strikes, contract holdouts and doping scandals got more publicity than the games themselves. That was before an end zone celebration took precedence over the teamwork that got the player the touchdown.

Basically, that was before sports transformed into its current molested state.

There's nothing I can do about changing the rules of today's games, and quite frankly, there are more important, dignified issues of concern. But, maybe it's good enough to take solace in the fact that somewhere out there kids are playing with the same passion as those athletes did in Bissinger's tale.

If the sports climate is to be changed, it should begin with them anyway.

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