Homecolumn"Friday Night Lights" Author Fails in NY Times Column on Sports Culture

“Friday Night Lights” Author Fails in NY Times Column on Sports Culture

Yesterday’s NFL games delivered a spectacular show, boasting heart-stopping finishes in St. Louis, San Diego, and Detroit.

Regrettably, footballbyfootball.com was established with a specific mission: to provide genuine insights for football enthusiasts.

Personally, I’d prefer to keep our focus squarely on the football field. A thousand times, ‘yes.’

However, now and then, something comes to my attention that vividly underscores the necessity of a platform like FBF.

Addressing a pseudo-insight brushfire takes precedence over dissecting a game.

Fighting against the spread of reckless misinformation pretending to be an ‘expertise’ in sports is a fundamental reason behind the inception of this site.

Enter Buzz Bissinger, primarily known for his work on the “Friday Night Lights” book, but today, he’s in the crosshairs.

You might recall Buzz making waves in recent years with his advocacy for banning college football—an argument riddled with more holes than a honeycomb, yet a successful exercise in self-indulgent trolling nonetheless.

What brings Buzz back into the spotlight is his opinion piece in this weekend’s N.Y. Times titled “The Boys in the Clubhouse.”

Despite lacking credible sports experience, he’s built his career on feigning insight into the sports world.

As uninformed as he may be on the subject, he has a way with words, making his parlor tricks appealing to those similarly lacking expertise.

His Sunday Times car wreck is not only his worst but also most representative of his approach.

There’s a fair chance that many readers took in his column over the weekend, accepted it as gospel, and remain none the wiser.

For reference, some of the details from ‘nytimes.com’ are explained below.

Let’s dissect the text and pinpoint its missteps. The following excerpts from the column highlight its fundamental flaws:

The fundamental premise of the column revolves around Buzz’s claim of having exclusive access to the insular world of athletes, mainly when he was granted entry into a clubhouse (belonging to the St. Louis Cardinals) where other journalists were barred.

He may lack experience, but he considers himself exceptional.

He aspires to enlighten us about everything awry in the realm of athletes, much like someone who’s merely used a toilet claims unique expertise in plumbing.

“Senators at least engage with the real world or make the gesture. There is not even the pretense of such engagement in too many clubhouses and locker rooms across the spectrum of high school and college and professional sports.”

I must confess, I’m struggling to grasp Buzz’s line of thinking here.

Is he suggesting politicians are more in touch with reality than professional athletes? It’s… puzzling.

If the layers of absurdity were digestible, we’d have a Tiramisu for the ages.

I’m left wondering where to even begin with this. Politicians are what? Athletes lack what… and how does he arrive at this conclusion?

This sweeping statement demands some substantial context later in the argument, doesn’t it?

There must be something in the text to back this up, right? Wait… there isn’t? And this man won a Pulitzer?! What on earth…

If you’re not acquainted with Mr. Bissinger’s peculiar writing ‘style,’ you’ll notice throughout the rest of his jumbled text that he has a habit of dropping something nonsensical and then making a hasty exit, hoping you’ll just take it in stride.

To draw a baseball analogy, Buzz enjoys taking a swing, trotting a few steps toward first base, and then leaping into the dugout. This approach might not pass muster in your local community college’s Journalism 101 course. But apparently, it’s acceptable here.

“When we try to understand what lies behind recent sports scandals, from the Sayreville, N.J., high school football team to Jameis Winston of Florida State to Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson in the National Football League, this is where we must start.”

Now, that’s a substantial assertion. To claim that the actions of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson stemmed from locker room culture is a bold thesis.

One would expect a solid foundation of evidence or personal experience to support such a statement. But alas…

In my extensive experience spanning over two decades in various locker rooms, nothing would alienate a player faster than laying a hand on a woman.

It’s inconceivable that Buzz isn’t aware of this, given his purported insider status.

So, the locker room is being posited as the natural breeding ground for these widely disparate incidents, while ample evidence to the contrary is readily available elsewhere?

This argument only holds water if you’re trying to pass off intellectual laziness as insightful analysis.

Including the Peterson situation in this mix is peculiar, isn’t it? Especially considering that Adrian Peterson and his defenders have repeatedly cited his upbringing as a rationale for his disciplinary methods.

Beating a child is a matter that likely has deeper roots than just locker room dynamics.

Surely Buzz wouldn’t be so reckless as to throw this out without substantial support later in the piece, right?

“But the devil is always in the details, and time and again, I was struck by the cocoon of insularity and extreme pampering, an atmosphere in which the only responsibilities that counted centered on hitting and pitching and fielding.”

It’s almost poetic that Buzz would extol the importance of details while omitting any himself. Truly poetic.

This narrative of professional athletes as myopic, single-minded individuals is a well-trodden path for outsiders.

The notion that they only care about their sport, which, let’s not forget, is their job, is rather myopic.

What’s often missed is that this level of focus is hardly unique to sports.

Hyper-specialized work environments span fields from finance to medicine, engineering, and beyond.

Did Buzz imagine life-skills seminars happening at construction sites? Perhaps he pictured impromptu tax policy tutorials in I.T. call centers?

No lessons in social values within the retail world? None at all? How irresponsible…

In truth, you’ll find more ‘real world’ resources and emphasis within the confines of your typical professional sports facility than in most other professions.

Not recognizing this only underscores Buzz’s lack of experience.

Notions that athletes are somehow less engaged with the ‘real world’ as the rest of us are tired and woefully inaccurate.

“By design, the athlete rarely faces similar accountability in real life. Issues that most of us deal with daily, whether making a living or worrying about Ebola, have no place in the athletic realm.”

Hold on a second. Is Mr. Bissinger attempting a feeble “one of us” appeal to the masses?

‘Ol Buzz is just an average Joe, isn’t he? This is the same guy who unabashedly dropped one of the most transparent humble brags in the annals of history in his G.Q. essay, ‘confessing’ to a Gucci wardrobe addiction worth over $500,000.

It’s just a regular Tuesday afternoon shopping spree, right?

Here’s a bit of context. Feel free to click when you’re ready.

The notion that ‘athletes rarely face similar accountability’ is an extreme outsider perspective.

In reality, the life of an athlete embodies precisely the opposite. It’s a life founded on accountability.

Yes, it starts with the sport, their job. However, this sense of responsibility typically extends to all other facets of life.

It instills the value of being a team player, starting with being accountable for one’s role within that team.

To suggest that this trait only applies to their sport is utterly absurd. That’s just not how it operates.

This is why athletes often make highly sought-after hires once they retire from playing.

Most professional athletes I’ve encountered are deeply committed to accountability.

The exceptionally rare cases are those who coast through in a bubble. To put it plainly, Buzz is entirely off the mark on this subject. He lacks a fundamental understanding of it.

Televisions were dispersed in various ceiling corners; all the time, they never once were tuned in to anything except sporting events. CNN didn’t exist. “Talk of the Nation” didn’t exist. The nightly news didn’t exist. As for reading, except for one coaching staff member, I never saw anyone with a book other than the Bible.

The televisions tucked away in the ceiling corners of locker rooms serve as mere background noise.

It’s natural that they’re tuned to sports stations, much like CNBC or Fox Business are the go-to channels on a trading floor.

It’s all part of the job. It would be downright odd if it were any different.

Regardless, how on earth does Buzz have insight into what guys are browsing on their cell phones or tablets?

That’s where most media consumption happens today, especially in a work environment away from home.

Is Buzz not aware of this? Would having NPR play in the background on some corner monitor change that?

The notion that athletes are somehow less connected to the ‘real world’ than the rest of us is tired and painfully inaccurate. I’ve worked in numerous environments, and Buzz’s reporting here is nonsense.

Athletes encompass diverse interests and backgrounds outside of sports—often even more so than many other workplaces.

The moment someone starts with ‘professional athletes are like ____,’ you can be sure they’ve lazily painted with an overly broad brush.

Then there’s the gum. Baseball players like to chew gum. It is a time-honored tradition, so different varieties were offered in the clubhouse dining room. But God forbid the players to be expected to exert the effort to unwrap a pack of Doublemint themselves.

We can breeze through this, but has Buzz ever stepped into a doctor’s office or a barbershop?

This is far from uncommon. At this juncture in the column, I’m genuinely questioning the authenticity of his perspective.

Singular pieces of gum. Then, transitioning to discussions of wife and child abuse. That’s the extent of the supporting evidence presented. It’s indeed bewildering.

To win, you should learn only what coaches want you to learn, and the prevailing attitude is that the less you know about the outside, the more successful you will be on the playing field.

It’s genuinely baffling where he conjures up this misinformation. With just a dribble of real-world experience in the realm he’s attempting to enlighten the reader, he’d quickly realize how off-base he is.

It’s honestly astonishing. The opposite holds true in my own sporting experiences and from what I gather from many others.

Players and coaches constantly seek relatable outside information to enrich and augment their work in sports.

While football may be the primary focus, the notion that ‘the less you know about the outside’ is beneficial is simply factually incorrect.

Drawing from external references and contexts only bolsters and refines the lessons gleaned from sports.

Of course, this might not be apparent if you lack any personal sports experience (as Buzz seems to).

Sadly, and too often with tragic repercussions, athletes don’t distinguish right from wrong because they have no idea of right and wrong.

Athletes, according to him, lack a moral compass. He penned this in the nation’s most prominent newspaper without a hint of reservation.

Not a few. Every single one. In one audacious sentence, he claims to encapsulate the essence of every athlete’s character. Bravo, Buzz.

This individual was bestowed with a prestigious writing award somewhere along the line. It seems he’s now in a race to outdo his level of silliness.

We don’t want to admit that in all these stories, it’s not about the individual or the individual sport but about the culture we have allowed to grow around them.

Suffice it to say, Buzz has resolutely parachuted himself back onto this assertion without a morsel of evidence.

He revisits the cases of Rice and Peterson, claiming that this culture led to their actions. But how, precisely?

It’s evident that Bissinger possesses a rudimentary understanding of sports culture.

He appears oblivious that a locker room environment operates entirely distinct and unrelated to the corporate management culture that initially hesitated to penalize A.P.

These two realms function independently, and it’s baffling how an alleged ‘insider’ could overlook this distinction.

Bissinger concludes:

Too many of them may be monsters. But we are just as guilty, allowing them to exist in a realm all their own and not caring a bit about what we have turned them into — as long as they bring us victory.

It seems we have to assume that Buzz is unaware that the criminal incident rate is lower among professional athletes compared to the general population.

Wrap your head around that logic… and we’re supposed to share in the blame for what, exactly?

Buzz’s style of discourse indeed does a disservice to the public, as it perpetuates myths under the guise of ‘insight.’

A discerning reader can see through it, but the casual consumer might not. It’s one thing if poor writing fails to support a thesis.

It’s another matter entirely when that opinion takes on a spurious pretense of insider knowledge.

The spread of misinformation and the hasty conclusions are detrimental to everyone.

Aditya Rana
Aditya Rana
Aditya is a student currently pursuing his Bachelors degree in Business Studies. He is a writing enthusiast who enjoys creating unique contents, especially about the sports industry.


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