An ex-boyfriend of mine loved fantasy sports. He had fantasy teams for baseball, hockey, basketball and football. Almost year round, he dedicated a not insignificant portion of his focus to tending to his fantasy team(s), football especially. Initially I found his fantasy hobby curious and amusing. So, this is what some of the male species spends their time doing? Fascinating. He’d get so passionate watching a football game – though I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t seem to root for one team consistently. “I don’t really have a favorite team. I just need my players to score me points!” Uh, ok. Mostly, I busied myself with other activities when on Sundays or Thursday evenings he watched football games, or when he’d take anywhere from five minutes to an hour to update his fantasy lineup – before and sometimes after games.
I never cared one way or the other for football. My dad watches it and I have many a memory of him posted up in front of the TV on Thanksgiving days. If forced to pick a favorite sport to watch, I’ve often chosen basketball. I grew up in the heyday of Michael Jordan and I understand basketball. Your mission is to throw the ball in the net. If you make a basket from outside the arc, you score three points instead of two! It’s simple with fast-paced action and points scored often. Football, on the other hand, mystified me. This, despite the fact that I went to high school and college in Texas where for some, football is a religion. Football puzzled me even though friend in college, who played football in high school, spent time drawing me a diagram of stick figures and lines, patiently describing to me various plays and positions.
“But why the hell does it take so long to score?”
He explained that the offense has four chances (downs) to advance 10 yards. If they advance all four downs, they get four new ones, with the goal being to reach the end zone, score a touchdown and dance. I don’t recall much else from that afternoon football lesson, but I figured I knew enough to get by. College football games were especially fun since our team was pretty good at the time and tailgate parties are no joke. Still, I continued to feel neutral about the sport.
Gradually, I grew to mildly resent the imposition of fantasy sports in our relationship, especially football. We scheduled many an outing around my boyfriend’s fantasy schedule. Fantasy draft days turned into two or three-hour ordeals with my boyfriend cursing every once in a while at the screen when he didn’t get the players he wanted. Of course, on Sundays, he had to watch the games, which are on all day. I wanted to go to brunch; he wanted to watch the games.
Bored and feeling ignored, I’d tell him, “I’m gonna go home.”
He’d put his arm around my waist and say with a look I had a hard time saying “no” to, “Aw, but I want you to be here. I’m just going to watch this one game.” One game would turn into two. He’d promise to act more attentively, but inevitably he fixate on the screen again, chatting with me and attempting to be attentive during commercial breaks.
Eventually, after a couple of years, I found myself mildly dreading the start of football season. During the season, I hated the din from the TV during games: the clamor of the crowds in the stands, the shrieking whistles of the refs after each play; the grunts and thwacks of players.
Sometimes, I’d try to goad him to get his attention, to at least have a bit of real interpersonal communication, like a child bugging out for their parent’s gaze:
“It’s funny that they make such a big deal about gay men in the NFL when this is probably one of the most homoerotic sports you can play. It’s like these guys find any excuse to smack each others’ asses, bump chests or jump on each other.”
He’d cross his arms, throw me a look of pleading exasperation and return to the game.
When we broke up, I wanted nothing to do with football. That is, until a couple of years later when a co-worker asked if I would like to join the company fantasy team. I considered that football is one of the most, if not the most popular sport in the country and maybe I should make peace with the sport. Additionally, a grand prize of $600 with a $50 buy-in appealed to me. I like to try new things and a few of my other friends were in the league, so I told him, “Ok, I’m in!” Out of 12 “owners” – as players are called – only three were women. I relished the opportunity to take on the smack-talking dudes who teased that the girls would choose players for our teams by uniform colors and player hotness.
I researched player and team stats on sports sites and fantasy blogs, strategizing my lineup; I watched football on Sundays, I rooted for my players and dutifully updated my lineup each week. That first season I came in seventh out of 12 teams, one slot shy of making the fantasy playoffs. The guys commended me on a good first effort.
The next year I was determined to at least make the playoffs. I also joined another fantasy team with a different group of friends – again, only three girls were owners in this new league – to increase my opportunities for winning cash money. I thought to myself, “If my ex could see me now. I have not one, but two, fantasy football teams!” That year, I won most of my head-to-head competitions, leaving the previous year’s champion to question, “Do you have somebody helping you?”
“No,” I answered honestly. I insisted on doing this on my own, as I quickly realized, listening to other people – as I did a few times my rookie season – proved more harmful than helpful.
His face registered disbelief as he said, “Uh, huh. I bet you got some guy at home giving you tips.” I took his insistence on a mystery helper as a compliment: he viewed me as legitimate competition for the throne. That season I landed in second place in that league, winning $200, for a net profit of $150. I rewarded myself with a Kindle Fire. I’d officially became a fan of fantasy football.
I began to lose interest in fantasy football as my life got busier. During the first few games of the following season, I was on the other side of the world in Tanzania with fantasy games the last thing on my mind. Shortly after I returned, I moved to San Francisco, which came with it’s own sets of challenges. I cut back to one league, finding management of two teams too much. Though, I ended up joining the fantasy league at “Fancy Startup” last year, in an attempt to get to know some of my new co-workers better. I played halfheartedly that season and committed the great offense of basically handing a game to my opponent one week by not updating my roster when one of my player got benched because of an injury.
On top of that, the year I placed second, one of my good friends and fellow leaguer, E___, told me about a story he’d seen on 60 Minutes about the long-term effects of concussions and other brain injuries on football players. I watched the segment online and it saddened me to hear the stories of formerly strong, capable men suffering from debilitating depression or early onset dementia, their families struggling to adapt and care for them. I’d heard of boxers being “punch drunk” and any fan of the Rocky series knows that Rocky’s brain got a little mushy from all that knocking around. It makes sense that football players and other athletes who sustain repeated blows to the head are susceptible longterm, irreversible brain damage. The NFL seemed to drag its wealthy feet in publicly acknowledging there might be a connection between players being hit by 200lb+ men running at high speeds and brain damage. Further, the NFL reportedly made it difficult for retired players who claimed brain injuries, to qualify for the appropriate health coverage, leading several players to sue.
I felt torn by my participation in fantasy football. Part of my entertainment relied on guys getting bashed in the head repeatedly. And for what? Doctors are even finding evidence of brain damage in football players as young as junior high school age, in addition to high school and college students. It doesn’t sit well with me.
When I saw the video footage of Ray Rice knocking out his then fiancee. I didn’t need to see the full tape to decide that the way he hit her and then cavalierly picked up her limp body as though she were a rag doll he didn’t give two shits about, to decide that the NFL’s weak punishment of a 2-game suspension amounted to an insult and undermining of the seriousness of domestic violence.
So, this year, when E____ asked if I’d be playing in the league again, I decided I was done. I am not interested in supporting the NFL enterprise at this point. If things with the game and the league change in the future, I may revisit my stance.
E____ argued, “Does this mean you are boycotting Chinese made goods because of their human rights violations, not listening to Kanye because of his wife, and not travelling to countries like Brazil due to their government induced social issues?
Fantasy football is just a game using the statistics from real games. It does not support the NFL at all.”
While I understand his point, as I told him, “I have to pick my battles and this is a pretty easy one.”