The impact of adults’ hopes and goals lived vicariously through their children - The most important theme of the novel involves the impact of adults’ hopes and goals lived vicariously through their children. The people of Odessa place an unmistaken burden on the shoulders of their sons - to be champions every year so that the adults can take the triumph as their own. The result is that their children can never leave their triumphs and defeats of that short time behind. It follows them no matter what they make of their lives, and it is unfair that they must do so.
Life isn’t always fair - The theme of life isn’t always fair is also an important idea. Boobie Miles exemplifies this idea when he injures his knee during a scrimmage and can never play football as well again. He has a terribly difficult time adjusting to being someone other than the high school hero. It impacts his family as well and takes him nearly ten years to understand that the dream has died. The reader can take from this that the tiniest event can prove that life isn’t always fair, but that we must find a way to create new dreams to make our lives meaningful.
Racism - The theme of racism is a theme which is ultimately voiced by many who are white and have lived all their lives in Odessa. The black players are only accepted, because they can play football, and when they no longer have that ability - like Boobie Miles - they are just “shiftless niggers.” The line between blacks and whites in the community is physically drawn by the railroad tracks and the different sides of town, but is also drawn emotionally in the minds of whites who cannot accept the black citizens of Odessa. It is an eye-opener for the reader to see the blatant racist attitudes in this West Texas town.
The ability to analyze and judge oneself - The theme of the ability to analyze and judge oneself is also prevalent in the book. The citizens of Odessa, - the teachers and administrators of the school system, the players on the team, - none could look at themselves and say that they were making mistakes or misplacing their priorities. This inability to acknowledge the flaws in their characters had a terrible impact on who they were and what they became. It is a valuable lesson for the reader and towns all over our country.
Misplaced priorities - The last important theme is that of misplaced priorities. The people of Odessa wouldn’t accept the fact that their obsession with football was impacting on the educational success of their children. Their need to have a winning season affected class time, homework, test taking, even whether school was a place to learn or a place to go between football games. It also impacted students who weren’t on the team by denying them opportunities in other areas when so much money went to support the football team. It was especially difficult for girls who were discouraged from showing their intelligence and who had few, if any, opportunities beyond marrying well. As a result of these misplaced priorities, the adult citizens of the town were handcuffing and taking prisoner the future of their children.
The story of the Permian Panthers in 1988 has its moments of victory and triumph, but the overall mood is one of sadness, loneliness, despair, and an inability to leave the “dream” behind and live lives that change and evolve beyond Permian High School.
He was born on November 1, 1954 in New York City, New York. He attended the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts before attending the University of Pennsylvania (1972-1976), where he became the editor of the school newspaper (the Daily Pennsylvanian) and graduated in 1976. He went to work in the newspaper field as a reporter. This later won him the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism (1987), the Livingston Award, the National Headliner Award, and the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel for his reporting while working as a print newspaper journalist for the the Philadelphia Inquirer (1991-1998), after shorter stints with the Ledger-Star in Norfolk, Virginia, the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
He is also the author of the highly acclaimed A Prayer for the City, and he has written for the television series NYPD Blue. He is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.