Friday Night Tykes, a ten-part docuseries focusing on the Texas Youth Football Association (TYFA), debuted Tuesday on the Esquire Network. Formerly the Style Network, Esquire re-launched in September with the goal of reaching "today's educated, upscale man." And if today's educated, upscale man is into puking, head injuries, and teaching young boys how to "make it rain" in the end zone, the series will absolutely resonate with the demographic.
The show itself draws comparisons to the equally problematic pageantry of Toddlers & Tiaras: both programs document parental monsters doing "whatever it takes" for their kids to win. However, a simple comparison downplays the scope of Tykes's abuse. Just like in Toddlers, there's a fair amount of adults behaving badly and showcasing bad sportsmanship. For example, the Colts coach laughingly leads his team of small children in a chant of "Fuck the Rockets" before a game.
But while the awful parents in both shows fight for their kids to win, the parents in Toddlers at least believe their beauties deserve a crown. The parents in Tykes are much tougher: they have no problem actively blaming team failures and losses on their own kids. When watching pageant parents, it might look uglier to see them question their children under Holiday Day Inn Express fluorescent lighting, but the meanness in Tykes is more deliberate and far more physically destructive. The second episode even features the mother of an Outlaws player ruthlessly mocking her son:
This isn't the say all the parents in the series verbally abuse their children. There's certainly a group of parents who also have no problem blaming the coaches for losses, questioning their calls like a group of fucking boosters looking to oust Charlie Strong. But at times that blame is mitigated by sad shots of the coaches struggling with their own ridiculous sense of failure. In one upsetting scene, the Broncos coach cries after a loss: "Today was the biggest day of my life."
But each time viewers find themselves feeling for these adults and sympathetic to whatever demons drive them toward this behavior, we're quickly reminded that these coaches are also just assholes. Assholes teaching young men that winning ethically is not as important as winning, and assholes teaching young men that "emotions is a female trait."
A male trait, presumably, is teaching young men how to take hard hits straight to the head and then shake them off after.
The most disturbing aspect of the show is how familiar the format seems, how accustomed we've become to screaming coaches, injured players, and the long, noble march toward glory. Watching from the couch at home, at times Tykes feels like a particularly compelling 30 for 30 chronicling a football great's humble beginnings. It's even more uncomfortable when, as a viewer, you find yourself rooting for the underdogs to win, especially in beautiful shots framed against the wide-open Texas sky. It's just like watching some tiny East Dillon Lions clawing their way toward victory, except this time, real lives are at stake. Clear eyes, full hearts, everyone loses.
Friday Night Tykes airs on the Esquire Network on Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. ET.