The most disturbing reality show of the year may also be the most important

Esquire’s reality series Friday Night Tykes, which follows youth football teams in Texas, debuted last week, and has already generated response from USA Football, which insists what happens on the series is “in sharp contrast to USA Football’s core beliefs and what is taking place on the majority of youth football fields across the country.”

Let’s hope. Because this kind of brutality against eight and nine year olds that was included in the first episode is insane. I cannot think of any way to describe some of what’s in the first episode other than child abuse. Clearly, though, to some, this is perfectly acceptable.

I plan to review the show later in the season, after I’ve seen more episodes, but although Esquire provided episode one and two to critics to watch, I honestly haven’t yet been able to watch the second; the third airs tonight. The first was just too brutal.

While the show is well-produced, I have questions about decisions the producers and network have made, such as artfully showing slow-motion footage of kid players smash their helmets into one another. This isn’t Hard Knocks, and we know enough about what football does to adult brains.

That said, I do think the show is critically important, because it is bringing awareness to the world about something that would be happening without cameras, but maybe the presence of cameras and a national platform can help create change.

Esquire is offering the full first episode online, and I encourage you to watch it if you haven’t already.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.