Parenting Blog

The End Of The Fantasy

There was a time when I considered myself a bit of a sophisticate when it came to sport. I’d wax poetic about the nuances of the games, expressing to any and all that my enjoyment was derived not from the splashy play the networks would replay ad nauseum, but from the tiny moments that made the rousing play possible in the first place. The to-the-naked-eye-mundane events, like a pitcher giving one away to set up his next, or a quarterback’s deft usage of a pump fake and use of his eyes to hold the free safety in the middle of the field for just a split second longer thus maintaining his wide receiver’s one-on-one coverage with an undersized cornerback, those are the things that thrilled me. I could go on, but I’ll spare you the nerdy details. At some point when I was falling in love with sport, I was simultaneously falling in love with the minutia of sport, and eventually that is what I came to love the most about all competition — the millions of under-reported underlining factors like passion, preparation, and will, combined with perfected skills-in-miniature like the ones I described above, the critical stuff happening outside the weight room.  Having never had the physical gifts or chiseled physique to play sport above the little league level, it was these abilities of the mind that made it all relate-able for me as a boy. If an advantage was gained through hard work and smarts, then I still had a chance to win.

Then, around the turn of the century, I began playing fantasy football, and over time I became less and less interested in how the deep pass to the wide receiver occurred, only how long it was, exactly, and which receiver was on the end of the ball’s gorgeous arc. Did I get a bonus for the length of the TD? Did those yards put the receiver and/or quarterback over a threshold to trigger even more bonus points for me? Or for my opponent? Oh no!

After a dozen years of playing the on-line game that now seems to hold more social currency than the on-field one, my love for sport, American football specifically, has been reduced to statistics, to decimal point figures updating *live* on a website. It has been years since I sat through an entire NFL game, kickoff to victory formation. When I became a father, and an aware one at that, I immediately became more sensitive to the plenitude of obscene commercials aired in mid-day, those featuring CSI rape scenes, dead bodies, frightened and missing children, and beer, beer and more beer.  All of that peripheral bullshit that surrounds the televised NFL experience has pushed me away from the sport, but it is fantasy football, the Red Zone channel, and my laptop that drove the nails into my football coffin.

I retired from my #1 and longest running hobby a few weeks ago, after the 2012 fantasy football season ended for me in week 13 of the NFL schedule. I was the commish of a serious long-term fantasy football league for 12 years, but my heart isn’t in fantasy football any longer. In fact, it goes far beyond that. I think that fantasy football is a bad, bad thing.  Sure, it is fun enough and might just expand a person’s knowledge of players, of games happening outside their vicinity, and of the league as a whole. But, and this is what they don’t tell you in the commercials, fantasy football also helps reduce sport down to a series of individual events that when stripped away from the strategy and competitiveness that exists on the field between a pair of teams, between men who have worked their entire lives to get to that level, leaves just randomness and fractional digits.  And, now with social media and instant *access* to players, the once fun-filled fantasy game is too often filled with hate and bile and ugliness, that I can no longer be even tangentially associated with it.

My ability to sit and watch a professional football game has been ruined by my obsessive nature as it relates to competing in the fantasy football league.  In the end, all I came to care about was what my players, and those on my opponents team, were doing.  And I now hear kids, not mine, but kids, talking about stats and numbers as if they are what matter above all else.  These particular children don’t watch the games at all, not even the highlights.  Maybe they take a quick glance at the TV while running from one room to another, but that is it.  They merely ask if player X has scored yet or rushed for over 100 yards in the game — because bonus points may kick in at that point, and as we all know, that is a good thing! The whole fantasy football devolution sucks for children, who are beginning their relationship with spectator sports in such a reductive way. It also poses a threat to the long-term future of the sport of football itself. Less people care about outcomes on the field, or about the people who suit up every week. They care only about their fantasy team and the numbers that that team accumulates each week.

My hope is that come next football season, I will sit down and watch games the way I used to. I will watch repeated 3-and-outs, I will see great plays, and miscues, fumbles, and epic performances. And I will only care about them as they happen, to witness wild success and agonizing defeat without regard to their impact on me or some fantasy team I have assembled. I hope that I can fall back in love with the tiny moments of perfection again. I want that back and I am willing to give up a game I loved and was very good at to get it back.

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