Twenty-two years later, the boy, Buzz Bissinger, would grow up into a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist before writing the bestselling nonfiction book ?Friday Night Lights,? which was later made into a movie. Yesterday, Bissinger presented to an auditorium full of Hokies his own views on high school football, which he described as ?a way of American life as intrinsic as religion because it is in a way treated like religion.?
Bissinger, who moved to Odessa, Texas, to research how high school sports stars were treated in small towns, said much of the same experiences described in his book continue today.
?I saw these boys play with broken ankles that were purposefully never X-rayed,? he said. ?I saw these boys vomit before every game out of fear of failure.?
Despite being about a game, Bissinger said the treatment of young football players was profoundly different than that of other high school students.
?To deny the presence of the haves and the have-nots, the athletes and the fans, those who play and those who do not ? to deny the presence would be ludicrous, and it can be incredibly dangerous,? he said.
Bissinger cited the Columbine tragedy in which two high school students massacred their classmates because of, he said, ill feelings toward the jocks of the school. He also went into detail about his relationship with one of the football players he shadowed while researching information for ?Friday Night Lights.?
The player, Boobie Miles, was the target of racial epithets and told he should be shot like an animal after being injured. He was also neglected in the classroom, but this did not surprise Bissinger in a state that spent, Bissinger said, ?more money on athletic tape than English books.?
The narrative about Boobie Miles was not the only talk of social justice during Bissinger?s lecture. He also described Derek Evans, a football star who at the age of 18 was treated with such celebrity status that his teachers did not make him take tests.
?When I interviewed Derek Evans, yes, he was wearing a uniform, but it was a prison uniform in Huntsville, Texas,? Bissinger said.
Evans was arrested and charged with repeated attempts at armed robbery, Bissinger said, and given a 20-year sentence by a judge who was not sympathetic to Evans? social status in small town Texas.
But not all of Bissinger?s comments about pre-collegiate sports were critical.
?I did see the incredible miracles that can happen when a community puts its all into everything, and that can be very, very powerful,? he said.
Bissinger said his anecdote about the Sports Illustrated story attracted him to the subject of high school football.
?I swear for the next 20 years that story stayed with me,? he said.
After leaving his job as a newspaper editor, Bissinger said he traveled around the country, particularly the South, and rediscovered the allure of small town football stadiums. Many of the stadiums, he said, were immaculate and well painted despite often being built in the 1930s.
?These are powerful places; these are important places; these are places that are about more than a game,? he said.
Bissinger had nothing but good words for the blockbuster version of his work.
?I thought the movie was wonderful,? he said. ?The acting was phenomenal, and Billy Bob Thorton was at his best.?
The movie, Bissinger said, was condensed but mostly faithful to the original book. The author said much of the realities described in it are still true today.
?Fifteen years later, I am still convinced that what happened in Odessa is not exceptional,? he said.
Audience members reacted positively to Bissinger?s presentation.
?I thought it was very interesting,? said Ryan Knicely, a freshman human nutrition, foods and exercise major. ?He was really affected by his experiences. I think we all know that that is going on, but he seemed particularly affected.?
Knicely said he came to the event for an assignment in an introductory communication class. Alanna Nice, a freshman business major, said she attended the presentation for the same reason.
?We have to see a speaker and write about it, and this looked interesting,? Nice said.