Massillon, Ohio, seems to have nothing going for it. No one praises the town for anything other than its football team. Having won the state championship numerous times, the team is considered a pillar of the community. Locals sport the team colors on everything including tattoos, face-paint, and coffins. The players are treated like near-celebrities and the games are hotly anticipated.
But a number of factors put the game into a different light. One of the most surprising sequences shows a parentally-organized post-win party featuring the high school students drinking incredible amounts of beer and, in one unbelievable case, vomiting about thirty gallons of puke all over the floor. The film reserves judgement, which is good, but it is so worshipful in other instances that the scene plays more like a humorous endorsement. Frankly, these parents should be in jail.
Another sequence details the disturbingly common practice of holding back promising athletes for an extra year in 8th grade to give them an advantage of age and size when they join the high school team. How can it be that the adults involved - parents, school administrators, coaches - don't see anything wrong with this? The team also vehemently denies illegally recruiting one player from a neighboring high school but given the disgusting behavior of the team in other aspects there is no reason to believe their protestations here.
Couple this sort of thing with the total disregard that the parents have for their kids' educations (one mom practically brags that her doomed-to-failure kid, a team captain, will get no help from her preparing for the SAT) and the fact that the town, for all their bragging about living and breathing football basically abandon their team at the first sign of defeat, and you get a pretty disgraceful portrait of a subculture. When one motivational speaker compares the day of a big game to the Jewish holiday of Passover (which celebrates freedom from centuries of slavery) he reveals the ignorance that so many of his neighbors seem to have internalized. No one in the film has any sense of perspective, save a couple of "outcast" students who want nothing more than to get the heck out of Massillon.
Go Tigers! takes pains to not be overly judgmental. The Moby-scored games are edited for maximum drama and many of the more telling statements are allowed to pass. Carlson never dwells on any topic for too long, which is a clean way to avoid controversy. (Plus he barely mentions the blatent racial weirdness in the town.) It feels like a more serious-minded piece could really explore the truth behind the scenes of Massillon's obsession. For example, when the wrangler of the team mascot, a tiger cub named Obie, states that the current Obie is their thirtieth in as many years no one thinks to ask what happened to the other twenty-nine. Are there abandoned tigers roaming the streets of Massillon or is the destiny of the town's beloved mascot messier than that? Wouldn't want to find out that our precious Tigers are anything less than perfect, would we?