Thursday, February 15, 2007

FNL Good-ness

USA Today has an article about the recent storylines involving racism of "Friday Night Lights". I love the show and perhaps the writer has seen future episodes, but I don't agree with the statement about the easy resolution. I agree that it is nice to see a show about a small town (Dillon) that isn't hokey. I agree FNL has some of the best storylines about families, the families aren't happy or sad, they are both. The parents and children are neither always right, nor always wrong.
First, as the writer mentions, kudos to FNL, for doing a stpryline about racism that wasn't super clear cut. An assistant coach got tangled in his words while talking to a reporter. What makes it so real, so simple, yet so complex, is that the coach doesn't use racial slurs. In the game they used a trick play where the (white) quarterback made a lateral shovel pass to the (white) running back who made another lateral pass to the (black) running back who then made a forward pass to the quarterback. The reporter commented that the black running back (nicknamed Smash) was a quarterback on the JV team and should they maybe consider him for the spot. The coach responded that Smash was in the right place, that a guys like him and some other players are really good in the power running positions. The savvy reporter noticed that the players listed were all black and was the assistant coach ("Mac") suggesting that black players are better suited to certain roles?
So what was great (if you will) about it is that Mac doesn't think he is being racist, he thinks he's appreciating special talents and the fact that the talents seem to coincide with race, he doesn't see that that is, in fact, racism. And while there certainly are plenty of people who are balls out racist, I think a lot of what we deal with today is this type of more subtle racism.
Mac makes an apology but it is one of those spin type apologies we've all heard (I regret that my remarks may have cause offense...). And of course, as Smash himself says, Mac isn't a bad guy, he just says stupid stuff sometimes. The black players walk off of the team. The head coach is trying to figure out if one stupid remark (albeit made to a reporter) should really invalidate a whole career, that incidentally includes being a big part of the team's original racial integration. Mac offers his resignation, it is refused. The players realize they may be losing more than they stand to gain and return. And then they go visit a town that has even more work to do race-wise. Such that the game turns into a brawl in the fourth quarter. The game is called for Dillon (the main team) since they were ahead, and they are pulled over by some pissed off (white) cops on their way home who want to question Smash for his "role" in instigating the brawl. Mac points out that without a warrant they don't have a leg to stand on. When asked what the cops wanted, Mac tells Smash that the cops had made a mistake the way he did. So, a bit better of an apology.
While it remains to be seen if the racism storyline continues, I don't think this was in any way an easy resolution. Yes, it's wonderful that everyone on the team seems to be cool now. But I think that the reality is it is very hard, especially as a teen, to figure out how far to push things. If someone is treating you well, but maybe not thinking about you for other positions because of your race is that wrong? Sure. But how do you counter that? Especially if you like the position where you landed? Do you make a play for something you don't really want for the principle? And as Smash's mother points out, is maybe the best way to counter low expectations just to go and exceed them. Go, play, get a scholarship, and be successful in life. And while it was spread over two episodes, there is an interesting contrast between how Waverly, Smash's girlfriend, thinks he should fight and how his mother thinks he should fight. Both agree he is a leader, and he should set the tone. They just have different ways for him to do that. And neither of them is wrong. Which makes none of the choices Smash - and all the rest - face easy.

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