Buzz Bissinger inspires, surprises

“Friday Night Lights” is not just a book about sports, author and sportswriter Buzz Bissinger said.

“It’s about the sociological impact that sports can make in America,” he explained.

Journalist and “Friday Night Lights” author Buzz Bissinger gave an animated Master’s Tea in Morse College yesterday, describing his career path.
Snigdha Sur
Journalist and “Friday Night Lights” author Buzz Bissinger gave an animated Master’s Tea in Morse College yesterday, describing his career path.

Bissinger shared stories from his professional career with an audience of 40 students, many of them athletes, at the hour-and-a-half-long Master’s Tea in Morse College. The sportswriter described his own path to becoming a writer and the story behind “Friday Night Lights,” his critically acclaimed work about Texas high school football. Bissinger, who has written two other books about politics and baseball, respectively, spoke candidly about growing up as “just a Jewish kid from New York.”

“I always knew I wanted to be a reporter for a newspaper,” Bissinger said at the beginning of the tea. “I loved the feel and the smell of a newspaper. That’s what I wanted to do.”

Bissinger wrote for his high school newspaper and, as an undergraduate, worked as sports editor for the student newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania. But after graduating from college and working for several small daily papers, Bissinger realized he wanted more.

“I got bit by the book bug,” he said.

The dilemma, Bissinger said, was whether to take the risk — to trade the life he knew for the life of a full-time narrative journalist.

“I asked myself: ‘Should I follow my dreams?’ ” he said.

And he did. In 1989, Bissinger’s fiancée and two children accompanied him to Odessa, Texas. Once there, Bissinger said his eye caught the stark contrast between the gloominess of the city and the magnificence of its high school football stadium — a $5.6 million arena.

“Then I began talking to people about how it was to be there on a Friday night,” he said. “They said wonderful things.”

He stayed in Odessa for over a year, collecting information about the town’s high school football team. He had a story, but when he sat down to write, the pieces did not come together.

“I wrote 30,000 words and out of those, I ended up keeping about 5,000,” Bissinger said.

Nevertheless, the book was ready four months after Bissinger left Odessa.

Bissinger sold the rights to the book the same year it was published. “Friday Night Lights” became a movie in 2004, and a TV show of the same name is currently in its third season.

In his tea, Bissinger tried to inspire the young audience by sharing the experience of writing his first book.

“To make anything work you need a story — a structure,” he said.

Six students interviewed said they enjoyed the tea. Most came because they were familiar with “Friday Night Lights,” either the movie or the TV show.

“I basically came because I’m obsessed with the TV show, and Texas in general,” said Jacqueline Erickson ’10.

Ann Chou ’10 was surprised by the contrast between Bissinger’s personality — the author swore often during the talk — and the characters he depicted in “Friday Night Lights.”

“I would never imagine him as the writer of the story I love,” Chou said.

Bissinger has also contributed to the magazine Vanity Fair, where his pieces have touched on radio personality Don Imus, the Duke University lacrosse scandal and baseball legend Pete Rose.

Comments

  • Glenn T

    Buzz Bissinger went on HBO's Costas Now and tried to humiliate a wonderful writer and blogger, Will Leitch. His conduct on the show was crass and disrespectful, and he ended up humiliating only himself. His conduct on this show will forever tarnish my appreciation of his work.

  • Anonymous

    @#1: at least it nearly got him Deadspin's SHOTY. Stupid Baby Mangino.

  • think for yourself

    #9,

    If you thought the poem was terrible, say why. Just citing unnamed "outside reviews" (in which actually there has been a lively debate) is not the strongest ground on which to stand when you're going to complain that others are not asking enough critical questions or thinking for themselves!

    Personally I thought the poem was appropriate for the occasion. I thought it was definitely better than Maya Angelou's poem about the tree and the mastodon (the inaugural poem from 1992). (I don't remember the one from 1996; Bush did not have one in 2000 or 2004.) Anderson's poem this time seemed to me spare, but subtle. There was enough right there on the surface for the crowd to understand in the moment -- images that are very familiar, even some bordering on cliched, like the figuring things out at the kitchen table -- but then the poem also seems to reward rereading. At least to me.

    Anyway, your mileage may vary. If you don't like the poem, fine; I just hope that's your own considered judgment, rather than a knee-jerk reaction to "outside reviews." While I'm sure that there are some people who just take any inaugural poem and assume it's great, there are also a lot of people who take anything produced by a black person and assume it's mediocre until proven otherwise. So, please read and think for yourself, #9 and everyone else.

    (One thing I do differ with you on. A troll is a troll. It's not about left and right. It's about taking this article as an excuse to go off on a marginally relevant political rant to try to provoke others, which is what "what" did. It's annoying, not "excellent." Excellent would be some actual critiques of Alexander's work. Or any other points more relevant to the actual YDN story!)