Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissinger, is non-fiction book that allows for discussion about race and pressure in a psychology or sociology lesson. This book documents a single season of a high school football team in Odessa, Texas as they work to win a state championship. Pressure is placed on the players from their parents, the school, and the community as a whole to win and succeed. The psychological aspects of this pressure as well as impacts of race should be elucidated in order to help them understand the struggles of the players.

Teachers should explain the social climate of Odessa to students, as racial tensions are a major part of the plot. Odessa seems to be a town stuck in a time warp—women dote on men, and the town is divided based on race and socioeconomic status. The only thing that unites the town is Panthers Football. Comparing Odessa in the 1980s to the rest of the country will help students orient themselves with the time period. Additionally, looking at the current sports culture at the local and national level will permit students to think analytically about the importance of sports to today's society and make connections to Odessa.


Friday night—the most important night of the week in Odessa, Texas. Businesses close and residents pack the stadium to support their high school football team, the Permian Panthers. Follow the most successful team in Texas football history during their climatic 1988 season as they fight for a state championship. An intriguing story about small town America, this book examines the complexities of race, class and education through the eyes of an outsider, raising important questions about sports culture in our society.

Objectives for Teaching
Fright Night Lights

  • Analyze the importance of football to the town of Odessa.
  • Discuss the special treatment the football players receive from teachers, fellow students, and the community.
  • Deconstruct the phrase "A Town, A Team, and A Dream" to understand its meaning in the context of the book.
  • Describe the social climate of Odessa and compare it to the rest of the country during the late 20th century.
  • Examine the role that gender expectations plays in the text.
  • Identify the effects that delusions of grandeur have on the students and faculty.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Foreshadowing
  • Imagery
  • Irony
  • Point of View
  • Setting
  • Suspense
  • Symbolism

Themes and Motifs

  • Race — Racial tensions run deep in the town of Odessa and cause great division. Even after Permian High School integrated the school, black students were only recognized if they could perform on the football field. Boobie Miles' character is representative of this idea because, after his career-ending injury, he is no longer revered by the community. The author often highlights the racial barriers in Odessa through accounts from both white and black residents that provide insight into the way black people are treated in the community.
  • Importance of Education — Throughout the book, the author exposes the misplaced priorities of the school in this football-crazed town where the athletes are treated like gods among men. Football players often receive special treatment from their teachers, who are paid much less than the coaches. No one seems to care about education as long as the team is winning games, even though this carelessness has a major impact on everyone, not just the athletes.
  • Gender Restraints —  The women within the novel are almost reminiscent of 1950s America, as if Odessa, Texas is in a time warp. In many instances, the female students dote on the football players as if they are celebrities, letting them use their bodies and treat them like trophy wives. The girls see only marriage in their future after graduating from high school.

Related Works

Theme of Race


Theme of Importance of Education


Theme of Gender Restraints

Key Facts

  • Length: 371 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 1220
  • Publication Date: 1990
  • Recommended Grade Band: 10 – 11


  • Named fourth-greatest book ever written about sports by Sports Illustrated (2002)
  • #1 New York Times Bestseller


A film version was released in 2004 and is available on DVD. The movie stars Billy Bob Thornton as the determined coach. The film does a great job at portraying the insane pressure placed on the football team, but it neglects to address issues of education and softens the depiction of racial tensions.

Your students will love:

  • In-depth descriptions of players and games
  • Suspenseful moments in the plot

Students may have problems with:

  • Portions of the book that deal with the history of the town
  • The journalistic style of writing
  • Racist actions and language

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