This marks my thirteenth year partaking in the hair-pulling, tv-screaming, keyboard-smashing event that is fantasy sports. Over the span of those thirteen years, I’ve developed a few rules for myself; some come out of superstition while others out of loyalties to certain players. I always draft Adam Dunn, for one (even though he really burned me this year). My biggest rule in fantasy sports is to never draft a player from either of my teams (those being the Chargers and Padres). This started back in the early 2000′s when I had a Ryan Klesko incident and was so split on him succeeding for my fandom versus my fantasy interest that I decided the conflict of interest wasn’t worth it. Now, as the years have gone on, it’s been easier and easier for me to not draft Padres players (because they suck) while the Chargers continue to tempt me with fantasy first round talent. These are two separate worlds, real life fandom and fantasy sports. They shouldn’t be crossed.
The rise of fantasy football over the past few years has been astronomical to say the least. The industry has gone from a back page feature of Yahoo Sports and ESPN to the most utilized feature on the respective sites. The culture of the NFL fan has changed drastically, and fantasy sports is leading the charge. More than 50 million people will dial up a creative team name and play fantasy football this year, an astounding number for a game predicated on being a complete and total football nerd. As the game continues to grow, so do the interest and culture of those playing the game. Money leagues, trophies, hours and hours of studying statistics; this isn’t a run of the mill “bragging rights” game anymore. People take fantasy football seriously, and thus people are beginning to take Sundays more seriously, but not always for the right reasons.
Michael Vick. Jamaal Charles. You may recognize these two names because they’re two of the most electric football players in the NFL. Or, maybe you recognize them because they both went in the first round of your fantasy draft. Either way, both players suffered severe injuries last night; Vick’s a violent concussion and Charles’ a season ending torn ACL. These are big injuries. These are career altering injuries. Downplay a concussion all you want, but at the end of the day it’s what ended Troy Aikman’s career. The reaction I got from NFL fans, whether it be on Twitter, Facebook, internet forums, and so forth was frustration. People cared, people were mad. But most people didn’t care that Charles had suffered a catastrophic knee injury because it was going to be damaging to his career. No, they cared because they had “wasted” their first round pick on a guy who wasn’t going to play for the rest of the year and now, looking ahead, their fantasy season was over. People didn’t care that Mike Vick was spitting blood on the sidelines and had gotten knocked out. People cared because Mike Vick is their fantasy quarterback and what are they going to do now that they have to start Sam Bradford. This is what the NFL fan culture has become and it’s pathetic. Arguably the biggest target so far this season has been Texans running back Arian Foster who, while nursing a lingering hamstring injury, has had to carry the weight and expectations of just about every fantasy football player who had the first or second pick in their respective draft. Foster took to Twitter, the proverbial loaded gun, and laid down this blast.
He’s right. The fantasy football culture has become so absorbed in a “what have you done for me lately” mentality that it’s forgotten why the game exists in the first place. It’s gone from “Jamaal Charles torn ACL what’s the impact on his team” to “Jamaal Charles torn ACL what’s the impact on my team.” Fantasy sports are a test of knowledge and a way to enjoy the game in a more broad sense. Hell, I’ve cared about Steven Jackson for three straight years now primarily because he’s been on my fantasy team. Lets not lose sight of why we play the game. The players don’t care about your fantasy matchup. Running backs aren’t pissed that they were pulled from a goal line carry because Death Cab for Flutie could have really used that rushing touchdown today. No. They play the sport because it’s their job and it’s a game that they love. We watch the sport because it’s a game we love. And unless we recognize this and learn to keep the worlds of fantasy football and real life fandom separate, fantasy football is going to turn the NFL into a game we watch because our fantasy matchup loves it.