Week 17 of the NFL is over and we’re on to the playoffs, and you know what that means: fantasy football season is over. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand my beloved Patriots are riding into the playoffs with a first round bye, and I can focus solely on them. On the other hand fantasy football brings me a ton of fun and satisfaction through the season. Every year, though, I can’t help but feel an increasing sense of impending doom when it comes to this hobby, and the sport I love. In a sentence, what worries me is this — Is fantasy football ruining the real thing?
Okay, now that we’ve gotten the click-baity title and answer out of the way allow me to tell you that the answer might just be yes. Fantasy football is ruining the real thing, but maybe not in the way you’d expect.
Fantasy football changed the NFL forever
Do you think this is hyperbole? I wrote an article the other day saying I think the Madden video games contributed to the pass-happy league we find ourselves with. Well I think fantasy football has a lot to do with it as well. How many leagues do you play in award points for the individual stats of defensive players? How many leagues do you play in have the numbers for defensive achievements clock in way lower than comparable offensive stats? Fantasy football makes a lot of money for the NFL, and offense stats drive that sweet sweet $70B. Yes, that’s Billion.
(Author’s Note: Most projections say fantasy football is closer to a $7B industry. The example above is adding time capital into the equation. It certainly reads with more effect with the extra 0)
For me, it reignited my love with the sport. Suddenly I wasn’t just watching my beloved Patriots, but I was tracking most teams in the league. I kept a close eye on injury reports, personnel shifts, coaching changes. I got very into the minutia of offensive and defensive playcalling, and learned a whole new language regarding the sport. All of this was to support my fantasy obsession (football y’all, c’mon). Which brings us to my actual point for this article.
Fantasy football changed the NFL fans forever
Do you think THIS is hyperbole? Let’s discuss.
Todd Gurley is by no means the first NFL player to speak out against fantasy football fans. A quick twitter search on a Sunday will show you why. You will see vitriolic fans, shouting into the void. Insults, threats of harm, anger, hatred, on topics from injuries to low statistical games ruining someone’s “team” that week. It doesn’t matter that the player in question might have just lost their passion and livelihood. Or that maybe they have a long arduous road to recovery only after impending surgery. They could have had a fantastic game, but were used primarily as a blocker, or they were used to disguise routes. All of these mean maybe a win for their team, but thousands of angry tweets.
Since the advent of fantasy football, players have been reduced from being human beings to being statistical outputs. However the fan’s loyalties are split, because as mentioned above, a good outing in live football could mean terrible numbers for fantasy. If a fan has multiple leagues, and like fantasy more than their hometown team, they might root against a player on their own team who happens to be going up against them that week.
But fantasy football fans are putting money on the line, creating hyper-competitive leagues with their friends, family, co-workers, etc, and they want to be the best. This creates a problem of entitlement and ownership. Fantasy football managers feel a sense of ownership over their players. When the players “underperform” in fantasy, it’s a personal affront. In the mind of the fan, the NFL player “owed” it to them to perform in return for the support and trust shown by putting the player into the matchup.
Before I go further, I’ll stress again that this is an absurd mentality, and a really terrible byproduct of a fun pastime.
Who can solve this problem?
The issue with talking about the problem that players and fans face is the price tag mentioned earlier. $7 Billion. That’s far too much bread for the NFL to ignore it. NFL.com has their own fantasy league system. They have whole podcasts and channels dedicated to fantasy analysis. There is a fantasy ticker at the bottom of games on the NFL Network. Fantasy has integrated itself into the very fabric of the NFL, and from economic and fan engagement standpoints, they would be foolish not to continue doing so.
So if the NFL can’t do anything about the problem, then can the teams? No. The NFL’s profits are the teams’ profits. At the end of the day, the teams live and die by the fans, not the players. It’s why you see teams constantly doing damage control, and why you hear owners like John Mara defend a kicker accused of horrifying acts of domestic violence but run from the concept of signing a proven quarterback like Colin Kaepernick. The reason? More fans wrote in about Kaep than they did about Josh Brown.
(I could write 10,000 words about why that pisses me off. I wrote quite a few in this piece about Toxic Masculinity, so I won’t touch on it again too much here)
Alright so the teams are out. Who’s next? The players? I’m really not sure what they could do except maybe embrace fantasy football a little more. This is a horrible idea. Can you imagine a quarterback checking down a potential touchdown pass in garbage time because they might get an INT? A running back refusing to run up the middle because they want a higher YPC amount? The players lose in every scenario involving fantasy football, which is why it’s up to one group to fix the toxicity involving fan and player interactions.
Yep, it’s up to each and every one of us to re-solidify the line between fan and player. Fantasy football has brought down a wall that was necessary to a healthy and loving fan/player relationship. No longer do fans root for players on their favorite teams in order to help that team win a Lombardi, now they root for players they may or may not like because they have money riding on their stat line. Fans have always had a sense of entitlement when it comes to players, but it used to be about support for a team. I love my team, you play for my team, therefore I feel connected to you on an unearned level.
Now fans feel they own players who appear on their teams, and feel like they’re owed performances on the football field that affect them and their leagues more than the actual football game being played. We need to fix this. Here are some tips to a healthier fanbase/player relationship.
- Do you have a favorite football team? Root for them over your fantasy league team. If you’re playing someone in fantasy who features a player on your favorite team, hope that you lose so long as that player has an amazing day. If you’re gonna lose, lose to your favorite team. It will keep your loyalties firmly prioritized in being a fan.
- Don’t check your fantasy football scores during the live games of your favorite team. My rule is I check fantasy during halftime and that’s it. That way my focus is entirely on the game at hand, and I’m not constantly thinking about fantasy implications of things happening in it, good or bad.
- If a player on your fantasy team gets injured, support them. Tweet get well soon messages. If they were critical to your fantasy success, then you didn’t set up your team very well, and there’s for sure someone in the waivers who can help. Get to work.
- If you’re going to vent on social media about fantasy football, don’t blame players for the problems. It’s gambling, and therefore a game of chance. Great players draw great defenses, sometimes their low score is proof of their value in a defensive gameplan.
- Just like…be less of a dick to players. They’re human too, and they’ve dedicated their entire lives to this point to the game of football. Chances are if they had a bad game, they’re mad too. They don’t need Joe Random trying to remind them of it.
These are just a few things you can do to fix the problem of fantasy football and fandom. If you have other suggestions? Leave them in the comments! Tweet them at us at @theturfsports. Drop them on our Facebook Page. Let’s work together to make a better fantasy football fan relationship with the players.
Now then, do I think this will work? No. If you’ve ever logged into Twitter you know what kind of a hellhole it can be. Have you read internet comment sections? (Yes, I know I’m encouraging you to do the same below, but I like to roll the dice). The internet gives people an anonymous voice that feels consequence-free and so knee jerk, emotional reactions take precedent over measured response. So I don’t think that this is something the fans will fix on a large scale. Unfortunately I think we’ll see a time soon when NFL players (especially offensive ones) recede from the fans.
Is there a world in which fantasy football and NFL players can coexist comfortably in the hearts of the fans? Yes. But it will take a major overhaul of the fan’s approach to players that I just don’t see happening anytime soon.
Author’s Note: I’m sure I’ll get a lot of these, so I’ll just address it now. Yes I’ve heard about the movement of fantasy football players donating their winnings to charity on behalf of Todd Gurley.
That right there is the correct response from Gurley from every possible PR standpoint, and it’s wonderful to see people donating money to charity. You know it doesn’t have anything to do with? Anything I just talked about. Or, I might add, anything to do with Gurley’s original Christmas Eve tweet. He was angry at a season of being tweeted at by fantasy owners. That those fantasy owners won their leagues and donated their winnings doesn’t change their behavior for the prior 16 weeks. Acting poorly because you want to win so you can donate your winnings and look like a good person is actually still acting poorly. It does not excuse prior behavior. Nor does it contextualize it.
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