Friday Night Lights Out?

The sun setting on a stadium in Texas typically conjures up images of a Friday Night Lights-like atmosphere. Football players colliding in front of tens of thousands of fans as the sound of the marching band plays on.
In Arlington, Texas though, high school football, the University of Texas Longhorns, Texas Rangers and even the Dallas Cowboys have had to move aside for a rapidly growing sport – – competitive gaming.
Late last year, a $10 million stadium in Texas opened – – not for football, baseball, or basketball but – – for video games. A 100,000-square-foot mecca was erected to house a thousand spectators for ESport events.
With viewership, attendance and prize pools growing – – a 16-year-old won $3 million for finishing first in a video game competition (the Fortnite World Cup) in July – – some project the ESports industry to surpass $2 billion in the next three years.
Not surprising, considering a Beijing stadium reportedly drew a crowd of nearly 40,000 people for a video game championship.
So where am I going with all this? I’m not quite sure.
I started out this piece intending to blame video games for the decline in youth sports, nationally and locally, especially in Little League and Babe Ruth Baseball where it appears to be a challenge to keep the attention of a fractured nation focused on something for an extended period of time without their attention waning. Just as I was about to do that though I was smacked in the face with some shocking statistics.
According to a survey conducted by Sports Fitness & Industry Association, the number of kids playing baseball actually rose by three million between 2013-18. Still, last year, the youth sports population declined as a whole.
So maybe video games aren’t truly “the devil” as many would want you to believe. Throughout the past few generations we have survived rock-and-roll, television, rap music, and the Internet. As a society, maybe we have even become smarter for it.
I have to admit, playing the role of Michael De Santa in Grand Theft Auto, Geralt of Rivia in The Witcher, and Nathan Drake in Uncharted or making freakish moves in Madden without the possibility of tearing an ACL or getting jacked up is maddeningly addictive.
I often wonder what life would have been like had my youth baseball career not ended with my lights out after being knocked unconscious with a beanball. Or what else I would have learned had my one year of high school football as an offensive lineman learning the A-, B- and C-gaps not turned into alphabet soup.
Sure, concussions and torn ACLs are prevalent in sports, but aren’t seizures and motion sickness associated with playing video games?
As the sun sets on Friday Night football, lights begin to flicker in the darkened recesses of homes all across America with kids logging into their next game of Minecraft, Fortnite, or Call of Duty. When the lights go out in high school football stadiums following Friday night football games this fall, will the darkness eventually give way to a brighter future?

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