Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream Themes

Buzz Bissinger


What might have started out as Bissinger's in-depth look at a high school football season gradually morphed into a documentary of the life of a depressed town. Various themes arise and are dealt with, such as racism, the effects of an economic downturn, and an educational system with its priorities skewed. Nevertheless, the team and the town's burden it must bear remains the focus of the book. This theme will be addressed as we analyze the pressures placed upon several players in the Characters section.

Using the N-word in Odessa was as common as someone saying he or she was a Republican or a Baptist. Even people who were shocked at cursing used it. The racism of Odessa might not have been virulent. Rather, it seemed to be an ignorant, "out of habit" kind of racism. Barely a trace of racial equality existed in Odessa by 1988. If Hispanics were slightly more acceptable, it was because they were generally thought to be harder working than blacks. Blacks were still segregated, de facto, on the wrong side of the south-side tracks. Unlike in most of the country, the schools had desegregated only six years earlier. Bissinger writes of a gifted black politician named Willie Hammond Jr. who held a city council seat in the 1970s. Whether he was guilty or set up, Hammond was convicted of arson and perjury. Black folks came to expect that the white establishment would always attempt to undermine their leaders. Another leader, minister Laurence Hurd, led the fight for school integration in the 1980s. But he too was accused of criminal activities and ended up in prison, further cementing the racist notions of the town. No one rose up to replace them and the status quo drearily dragged on. And it remained through 1988 that the only place where the town tolerated blacks was during a Permian football game.

As far as the local economy was concerned, a particularly poignant moment occurred during a campaign stop by George H. W. Bush in 1988. To a cheering crowd...

(The entire section is 730 words.)