On Friday Night Lights
The Psychology of Sports Fanaticism in Friday Night Lights
Perhaps the most striking quality of Friday Night Lights is the underlying theme of sports fanaticism. On the surface, Friday Night Lights is a show about a caring coach and his supportive family, the love of a game, and a group of high school athletes learning to become the best version of themselves. Underneath, however, sports fanaticism drives a far more dramatic and complex narrative in which high school football players contend with celebrity and crisis, a town’s mood fluctuates with each passing game, and the well-being of the show’s relatable protagonists–the Taylor family–is constantly threatened by the crazed Panther culture.
The pilot episode illustrated this darker undercurrent at work. Viewers were introduced to opening night of Dillon Panther football, in which overwhelming scrutiny transforms thoughtful and mild-mannered individuals like Coach Taylor and Brian “Smash” Williams into more frantic and fearful versions of themselves. We watched as the phrase “state championship” passed through the town’s collective lips and induced a state of glazed tranquility, as if sports fanaticism were some cultish force that had brainwashed the town into believing that a state championship meant a better life for all. This unsettling sentiment picked up speed throughout the episode, culminating in images of pep rallies, pancake breakfasts, and–most unnerving of all–the town’s youth gathering around star quarterback Jason Street like disciples around a religious deity.
But as the show continued to unfold and we learned more about the Dillon Panthers, the meaning of sports fanaticism evolved–and what had initially seemed like a force …