Friday Night Tykes, a reality show that airs on the Esquire Network, is drawing criticism for the way the show’s stars, 8- and 9-year-old football players, are taught to play the game. Critics of the show have called the conduct of the league’s coaches unsportsmanlike and even dangerous. Since its premiere, two of the league’s coaches have been suspended.
The show follows five hard-hitting, full contact teams in the “Rookie” division of the Texas Youth Football Association in the San Antonio region during the 2013 season. It purports to show how coaches and parents teach discipline and dedication through football. However, after just a couple of episodes, some viewers believe that the league emphasizes unhealthy competition more than anything else. “It feels like you’re watching child abuse… sanctioned child abuse,” ESPN Analyst and author Tom Farrey told ABC News. “There’s no evidence to suggest that this kind of coaching is effective in building athletes over the long-term.”
Two coaches, Charles Chavarria and Marecus Goodloe, were suspended after the league witnessed their behavior on the show, ABC News reported. Chavarria allegedly encouraged one of his players to hit an opponent with his helmet, an act that is extremely dangerous and banned in football environments including the National Football League (NFL). He was suspended for the rest of this year’s season. Goodloe, on the other hand, was suspended for just six games. He’s accused of encouraging his players to use profanity during the game. Both coaches apologized for their actions, citing the intensity of the environment. “I’m definitely apologetic for that. It was a bone head moment and a bad decision on my part,” Goodloe said.
But what makes an 8-year-old’s football game so intense that it causes adults to act out?
Perhaps the famous Texas football culture is to blame. But watching the show, it’s hard to ignore how much the adults actually care about the kids in the league — even if they have an extremely tough way of showing it. It’s because, as they see it, they’re investing in these children’s future. As TIME points out, there’s an undeniable passion that the parents and coaches in the league all have. They genuinely believe they’re giving the tiny football players tools to become successful as they grow older. When one coach was reminded that he was talking to little kids, he replied, “Yeah, but that’s our mindset. If we allow them to keep making excuses, that they’re just 8-year-olds — they’re not 8-year-olds! They’re growing boys!”
Friday Night Tykes airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on Esquire.