Football Philosophy: Is Fantasy Football Ruining Football Fandom?

I didn’t realize how big fantasy sports were until I got to college.

A Quick Story

The story I am about to tell you is absolutely 100% real; it actually happened, and is not simply an allegory for a point I’m trying to get across. The first class I ever took in college was communications 101, known more colloquially as COM101. I sat down in the lecture hall, about two seats away from what I can only describe as the most ordinary looking man imaginable. For the sake of this story, and because I genuinely do not remember his name, we’ll call him Josh. What he looked like didn’t matter. A couple of minutes went by and, seeing that we clearly had some time before class started, he turned to me, and with all the liveliness and fervor of a veteran inmate of 30 years seeing fresh meat, asked me, “So, what are you in for?”

Quickly, we learned that we had very similar goals. Not only were Josh and I both journalism students, but we wanted to write about sports. Even more specifically, we wanted to talk about football for a living. How serendipitous. But the key point of diversion between the two of us is that Josh loved fantasy football.

I like fantasy football! I think it’s a fun thing that you can do with your friends. But this guy was into it. I looked Josh up on the internet to see some of his journalistic work and what I found was over 1,000 articles about fantasy football, going back at least a half a decade. Non-fantasy writings, if there were any, were too few and too far between for me to remember at this point in my life. And the other quirky thing that I noticed, as I got to know more about Josh, was that first of all, he wasn’t alone in this. And second of all, this approach to sports livelihood affected his approach to sports fandom as a whole.

I’ve met tons of people like Josh since, and while they may not all be quite as intense as he was, they all share this odd shift in how they think about sports. Specifically, that it has become less about the teams for them, and more about the individual players. I spent a semester with Josh, basically picking his brain about the way he thought about football, genuinely one of my favorite pastimes. What I found is that he had decided, at least subconsciously, that sports were no longer about the sense of community and frankly, abject tribalism, that I and many others in my life heavily associate them with.

I enjoy sports, much like I enjoy the consumption of alcohol, as a very social event. There’s nothing more depressing than drinking alone, except maybe watching the Cleveland Browns lose an opening-week matchup to the Philadelphia Eagles while sitting alone in your bedroom. Robert Griffin III was the starting quarterback for Cleveland in that game, and he got injured before he could even finish week one. This is burned into my long-term memory.

I suppose, as I learned throughout that freshman year of college, that not everyone sees it that way, and that’s quite alright with me! Whatever floats your boat, as always. But I can’t say that I’m not at least a little bit puzzled by it. And seeing as I’ve had almost five years to the date to ruminate on this weird semester of events, it left me questioning both my sports fandom, and that of others.

Are fantasy sports ruining the way we enjoy sports?

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