February 14, 2014

Friday Night Tykes - Letter from the AAP to NBCUniversal

This latest update to the COCM Blog shows the work of the AAP in action. In January 2014, the Esquire Network began airing a new reality series called “Friday Night Tykes,” which follows several teams of 8-year-olds playing in a competitive football league in Texas. The coaches are depicted encouraging athletes to injure players on the other team, forcing athletes to run to the point of exhaustion and nausea, ignoring basic safety precautions and verbally harassing the young athletes. Recently, two of the coaches have been suspended by the league for encouraging dangerous play or bad behavior. Members of both the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness and the Council on Communications and Media urged the AAP to communicate with the show regarding activities that are putting children at risk, and concerns about exploiting children for the sake of entertainment. This is the letter that went to NBC, the parent company of the Esquire Network.

February 11, 2014

Stephen B. Burke CEO and President NBCUniversal
30 Rockefeller Plaza New York, NY 10009

Dear Mr. Burke:

On behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a non-profit professional organization of more than 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical sub-specialists, and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety, and well-being of infants, children, adolescents, and young adults, I write to express our concerns regarding “Friday Night Tykes,” a “reality” television show which began airing on the Esquire Network, a division of NBCUniversal, in January 2014. The intent of the program appears to be to spark a national conversation on “how much competition is too much?,” but we are deeply concerned about the children on these teams, who are subjected to unsafe practices while adults stand back and watch or in some instances, bully them. And all of this is filmed as a means of entertainment.

Pediatricians have long advocated to create safe environments for children participating in sports, including football. This includes acclimating children to the heat and weather conditions, teaching proper tackling techniques to avoid injury, and wearing the appropriate football equipment at all times. The AAP has also advocated for stricter laws so children who may have had concussion must sit out until evaluated by medical professionals. ”Friday Night Tykes” does not seem to take into account any of the medical advice that we or other nationally recognized health professionals have suggested.

In addition to the safety concerns, we are alarmed by the message delivered by coaches on the show who threaten to bench or dismiss from the team players who do not comply with demands. At this age, these children want to make their coaches and parents proud. While the coaches believe they are raising a disciplined team, these threats instead increase the children’s tolerance for being bullied. Research has shown that by age 13, 70 percent of all youth drop out of sports, usually due to the behavior of adults, parents and coaches. Sports can increase children’s self-esteem and help them develop peer relationships. Unfortunately, none of these benefits are apparent in the show.

Finally, using children at risk of serious harm in this way as a source of entertainment raises deep concerns. Regardless of the intent of the show, these children are being exploited for the sake of entertainment and for ratings. Viewers of the show watch in troubling fascination the extreme behavior of adults in their roles as coaches or parents determining how much physical and emotional pain is enough -- or too much for young children. Children are unable to consent to be exposed in this way, nor are they developmentally equipped to understand the complex interplay between themselves, their coaches, their parents, the cameras and the audience.

We would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you, Esquire Network executives and the producers of the show to discuss our concerns in greater detail, and to ensure the safety of the children participating in this show moving forward.

James M. Perrin, MD, FAAP President