I love the NFL. I love watching the games, reading about the games, listening to ESPN talking heads discuss the games ad nauseam, and arguing about the games with my friends. Or, at least I used to love the NFL. My first (and final) season playing fantasy football has ruined the game for me. From what I can tell, I am in the majority; many people now allow fantasy football to dictate how they interact with the NFL. For the sake of the game of football itself, fantasy football should be shut down.
For years, I’ve resisted the urge to play fantasy football. I even went so far as to relegate a friend to my spam box in order to avoid being tempted by his frequent emails about his fantasy football league. I operated under the assumption that playing would eat too much time out of my schedule, which was already stretched thin.
Fantasy football sounded like a lot of fun and right up my alley. As a kid, baseball cards taught me about percentages and decimal points. I enjoyed geeking out over stats and competing against my friends, and fantasy football seemed like a glorious pastime that had the potential to consume my every waking moment.
This year, however, I finally gave in and accepted a friend’s invitation to join his league. Draft night was fun, and I left the evening excited about my team. But then the season started. Before I realized it, I was interacting with NFL football very differently than I had in the past.
This season, I have found myself concerned more about the individual performances of players than about the actual games. The final scores, you know, the thing that actually matters — or, should actually matter to NFL “fans” — are now secondary, almost to the point of being inconsequential. Conversations among friends about the NFL now center on how my fantasy football team is doing instead of how the team I actually root for (or, sadly, used to root for before fantasy football) is doing.
I’ve even heard from people who say they feel a tinge of happiness when a star player on another person’s team gets injured. Just a few short years ago, I scoffed at and reviled fantasy football players who did these very things. Shamefacedly, I have been forced to admit that I have become what I once claimed to hate.
During the 2007 season, Brian Westbrook took a knee at the one-yard line instead of running in for a touchdown. In the moment, the Philadelphia Eagles running back believed that taking a knee in order that his team could run out the clock and ensure a win over the Dallas Cowboys was more important than individual accolades. Many fantasy football players disagreed.
Watching the ensuing vitriol from people upset that Westbrook’s decision had cost them fantasy football points, I smugly shook my head and swore that would never be me. I mean, real football fans should cheer the kind of selfless, heads-up play demonstrated by Brian Westbrook. Going beyond not rooting for Westbrook and becoming angry because the running back’s smart football play cost you points demonstrates that you care far less about the actual game than you do about fantasy football; even to the point of the actual game’s detriment.
At the time, I believed that I was a real football fan and was immune to such impure interactions with the game. Except, sadly, I am apparently not a real football fan. And it took less than a quarter of the way through my first fantasy football season for my selfish perspective of the game to rear its impure head.
Next Page: A post-fantasy football manifesto.
From here on out, I will merely sub my starters out during their bye week or due to injury (and that’s only for the sake of sportsmanship since I agreed to be in the league). I will no longer avail myself of fantasy scouting reports in order to help me determine my starters based on the best matchups. I will no longer be searching the box scores in order to see how my starters are performing.
My team’s standing within my league will no longer matter. Instead, I will shift my football allegiance back to the actual game being played on the field. Who wins on Sunday (and on Thursday and on Monday, of course) regardless of individual stats will be what’s important. I am going to endeavor to go back to interacting with the game the way Walter Camp intended.
I encourage all of those who have allowed fantasy football to negatively change the way they watch the game to do the same. Let’s go back to actually watching football.