How does Brian Chavez differ from most of the boys on the team? Use at least three textual references.
Brian Chavez is the only Hispanic Player on the team. This separates him as a token example of the massive influx of Hispanic peoples migrating to into the Odessa area. Brian’s differences are not merely cultural. He is the one boy who excels at academics as well as football. Unlike the rest of the boys on the team, Brian will do well regardless if football is in his future or not. Brian’s many talents outside of football provides an interesting juxtaposition to the other boys who have all their dreams wrapped in one year of football or, at the very best, a few years in college ball.
Why are so many fans emotionally dependent on the success of a boys high school football team?
This is an interesting social phenomenon. One really has to study the history and socio-economic demographic of Odessa to learn exactly how high school football fits into their collective psyche. Certainly with the short boom and long bust economy, people are subjected very unstable times. With a mostly poor economy comes financial and social instability. For many people, Permian football remains the only constant they can depend on for entertainment and communal identity. The town lives vicariously through the boys’ thrill of victory and their agony of the defeat.
Gender roles in Odessa seem to be like a throwback to the 1950’s. Describe the gender expectations for both boys and girls.
The girls at Permian follow gender roles reminiscent of 1950’s America. Most every girl at Permian dreams of being a Pepette. These are girls who exclusively devote themselves to the football players. Each Pepette is assigned to a specific player. They act as domestic servants for their appointed player by cooking them football themed deserts or making signs for them. If a girl is blessed with a keen intellect, they simply “dumb down” themselves to fit into Permian school culture. Bissinger paints a world where the boys on the team are treated as men through the lens of male hegemonic masculinity rather than the kids they really are. The coaching staff often hurls insults, laced with sexist language, at the boys under the guise of motivation.
Discuss how Boobie Miles acts as a commodity within the machinery of high school and college football.
Boobie is a black athlete from the poor side of Odessa. Boobie can barely read but has been courted by major colleges and universities since he was a junior at Permian high. As Boobie progressed, it became apparent that he had all the makings of a champion player. Booby is so good that Coach Gaines bets the team’s chances at going to state on his wonder kid. Colleges and universities are willing to promise him the world on the remote chance that he can perform at an even higher level despite the fact that he can barely read their glossy brochures. When Boobie injures his knee during a pre-season scrimmage, everything is lost. Interest in Boobie vanishes from both his high school and the colleges. Boobie becomes the collateral damage from the machine that is West Texas football.
Desegregation of schools and racism in Odessa is a major theme in this book. While the rest of the country has progressed, Odessa seemed unwilling to change until the future of its football program was at stake. Discuss this statement.
Although segregation in America officially ended in 1964, apparently Odessa never got that memo. Anyone visiting Odessa from more populated centers might think that they are caught in a time warp. As it turns out the lack of desegregation was based more on what would happen to the Permian football team rather than just “good old Southern racism.” Permian parents were worried that desegregation would destroy their football team, their last bastion of white glory. It wasn’t until the obvious finally dawned on the white population of Odessa. White football teams simply could not compete against mixed race football teams or all black teams. Desegregation would transfer some fabulous black athletes to Permian. The racial rhetoric waned and finally, in 1982, Odessa adhered to a federal law that was instituted eighteen years earlier.
These boys are treated as heroes on the football team; yet after their final season, most are forgotten or only briefly acknowledged at football pep rallies. Explain this seeming contradiction.
Bissinger paints a pretty grim picture of life after Permian football. In their final year of football, these boys live in a surreal world of hero worship and dreams. Unfortunately, once their final year is done, most of these boys will simply be spit out of this machine back into the land of mortals. Perhaps a few might go onto college football scholarships but ultimately, these will be a let down. All the boys, with the exception of Tony Chavez, will be ill equipped to handle the academic and social rigors of college life. All of them will find that, no matter how “good” they were in high school, they are disposable in college. The hero worship they felt at Permian, vanishes if they should get on a college team. Without all the external stimuli and motivation most players simply drop out of school, their football dreams merely illusions fading away in the springtime mist.
The sad truth is that in Permian’s fifty-five year football history, only six players have tried for or made the pro leagues. Most of these boys obtain jobs in or around the oil business that will slowly tax their bodies and souls, just as the business had done to their fathers. When they become men, many Permian football alumni will relive their glory days through their own sons or in the stupor of a bottle.
Football, political ideology, and culture are all closely related in Odessa. Explain the dynamics of these relationships.
At one point in the book Permian wins a game 42-0 over the Midland Bulldogs. What is most impressive, however, is the surreal scene after the game; it is a scene that creates the illusion of America that West Texas football fans conjure up in their dreams. The bands on both teams belt out patriotic tunes; the smell of hot dogs; popcorn and beer lingers in the air. The teams line up on both sides of the field, their helmets off, looking like young gladiators after a battle. Children, parents and grandparents stand in awe of this truly American spectacle before them. This brief revision of days gone by is directly related to the politics of the white middle class. The white middle class in Odessa clings to “traditional” American values of hard work, church, minimal government and racial homogenization. George Bush and the Republican Party are synonymous with the values most middle class West Texans cling to amidst their rapidly changing world. The idea of hot dogs, barbecues and football fit within the cultural milieu of the Republican platform.
Odessa is a like a surreal world unto its own. It is a "small pond” where football-playing boys have grown accustomed to hero worship and academic accommodation. What are the stark realities that they suffer after Permian football has ended?
The vast majority of these boys don’t go on to play college football. They re-enter the world of mere mortals with a mediocre education and some fond memories of greatness. Many slip into their old habits of drinking and raising “hell” except this there is a sense of melancholy and emptiness; this time there are no reasons for their celebrations. The few that are invited to venture into the world of college football are quickly disillusioned. At university they are not worshiped and easily expendable. Academics prove to be a big problem because, unless they are superstar status, they are left to drown in their academic dysfunction.