NFL football is played in real life, too.
That secret is: Don’t. Just don’t.
But unless you’re a fellow football Luddite, this advice falls on deaf ears. You probably have a fantasy draft coming up this week; hell, maybe it already happened. Maybe you got Aaron Rodgers. Congratulations.
This ship has sailed, ufortunately. Fantasy football isn’t just an offshoot of the NFL; for some it is the NFL. It has entire magazines devoted to it. It’s vehemently debated on cable TV segments. It has its own channel.
“Five years ago the very idea of this channel would have been mocked,” Will Leitch recently wrote for Sports on Earth about fantasy football’s boom during his lifetime. “Now it has the Manning brothers rapping about it.”
That Manning brothers rap, which is an ad for yes, that channel we mentioned above, has been viewed more than 3.5 million times in two weeks online.
Still, not all of us are cool with this. Our numbers dwindle by the year, but viva la resistance.
The problem with fantasy football is that it’s the the most egregious example of alienation from our collective sports-fan species-being, to paraphrase noted NFL nut Karl Marx. March Madness brackets have a similar effect, but at least only last for a few weeks.
“Once the NFL and the networks realized just how much more people were watching their games for fantasy (and gambling of course) than for the beauty of a well-orchestrated counter trap lead, the game of football took a backseat,” writes Leitch of the graphics and fantasy references that inundate NFL-related media of all stripes nowadays.
Indeed, this question may have already been answered when it comes to NFL football:
W/ pro leagues embracing fantasy sports revenues, are we headed to a time when player stats will be more important than the final score?
— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) August 19, 2014
Numbers-centric media overload isn’t the only way fantasy has changed the entire experience of being an NFL fan. It’s also changed because of what fantasy does to people — many of them, anyway.
For these people, some of them dear friends of mine, the game is no longer just about that astounding, contorting catch for a touchdown while being trash-compacted by two safeties. No, what’s important is whether they “own” the guy who caught it or he scored against “their” defense.
Epic comebacks, mind-bending feats of athleticism and displays of sporting greatness are what should be celebrated, not how many points you racked up in your weekend fantasy matchup. Telling sign: No one cares if “your” savvy free-agent pickup scores — not even people in your own league, unless you’re matched up against them.
You might argue that fantasy lets you get into games you’d otherwise have no interest in. But if your only interest in said game is counting digital beans in front of a screen, then my advice is to go outside and get some fresh air.
But hey, perverting the very basis of sports fandom and becoming more alienated from your true human self is totally your prerogative — just don’t ruin it for the rest of us. This isn’t a call for an all-out boycott — just a reminder that, like other addictive substances, fantasy football must be enjoyed responsibly and with cognizance of those around you.
If you’re in the ever-growing zombie army of the fantasy-deluded, here are two simple things you can do to keep from tainting the NFL experience for the rest of us.
- Don’t get super-pumped when someone from a random team who’s on your fantasy squad makes a half-decent play. Your fist-pumps and exaltations of digital points make the couch feel harder and the beer taste warmer.
- Don’t pull for a random team simply because you “own” their defense or some key player. Doing so means rooting against another, perhaps more deserving, likable or aesthetically pleasing team — an act that corrodes your sports-fan soul.
See? Two things. It’s that easy — at least it should be.
But this is a losing battle; the bots have already consumed us. There’s that TV channel, remember? And NFL star Richard Sherman recently implied that fantasy is impacting how actual games are officiated. So if you’re going to play, fine — just keep it to yourself, stifle those spasmodic, self-absorbed yelps and don’t forget your analog-fan brethren.
OK, now get off my lawn.