by Steve Stegeman
October 3, 2003
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    While visiting Colorado the last week plus, I was afforded the treat of HBO; the 70 or so basic cable channels I get at home are way more than enough.  I still usually aimlessly end up on Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, Court TV, The History Channel, one of the multitude of 24-hour news channels, ESPN or ESPN2.  In any case, on HBO, by way of the show Real Sports with Bryant Gumble, I once again came face-to-face with the ugly side of fantasy football, the on-line manifestation of which was purported to be going the way of pornography and gambling according to this half-truth, pejorative report.  Of course, in their fairly conspicuous effort to generally degrade the hobby, they dared not draw parallels with on-line auctioning or stock-trading, which convey a significantly different (positive) connotation than the aforementioned analogies.

    But, I digress... and digress...  I started playing fantasy football the year I graduated high school primarily as a way to keep in touch with friends all going in different directions, literally and metaphorically.  That underlying impetus remains firmly in the fore for me today, 15 years later.  The "living, human" side (especially vis--vis the lock-me-in-the-closet number-crunching side, not that I do not enjoy that as well) of the hobby, especially the unique competitive social interaction that can potentially be had, and the camaraderie of it all are always what has appealed to me the most.  I mean fantasy football is not like kite-flying or coin-collecting, which are introverted hobbies, necessitating no human interaction and whose objects are, well, lifeless objects.  Whereas, fantasy football is an "active, living" hobby ALL about people.

    Through fantasy football, I have maintained friendships that would doubtlessly have faded away to the realm "Christmas-card" friendships and, I am sure, eventually to the point of losing touch completely.  I have even rekindled old, lost friendships, one dating back as far as elementary school.  I have also made some great new friends, who share in my passion for this wonderful hobby of ours, from all over the country.  I have made it a point to take the time to "speak" with many of them, yes, by phone, and have done my best to get to know them substantively as people, not just screen names.

    Speaking further of the unheralded (largely due to the internet) social allure of fantasy football is the unique social context in which the game is played.  In fantasy football, you get the opportunity to employ social skills not necessarily put to use, as such, in other areas of life.  The battle of wits that goes on when trading players is downright psychologically intense (it is wild seeing a guy with a six-digit salary white-knuckled and sweating from his brow because he is in the process of hammering out a trade); building a "franchise" in a deep keeper league is definitely an intellectual challenge, and being a league commissioner is without a doubt a great learning experience in political relationships and human motives.

    Then, there is the positive effect fantasy football has had on my relationship with the "real" game.  I became a much more knowledgeable and enthusiastic fan of the NFL in general indubitably as a result of my participation in fantasy football.  Before, from about age 13, I was just a Broncos fan.  That was great.  Don't get me wrong!  But, I did not care much to watch/follow other teams, no less their players, and had a, relatively speaking, limited understanding of and passion for the professional game as a whole.  Yea, some of that is the vicariousness of it all, which the HBO segment makes sure to point out, but most of it is just the "reality" of "fantasy" football.  As "a matter of fact", I watch/follow more games, probably all of them to some degree and I only play in one league, and I follow players representing all the teams.  Sure, I like the feeling of thinking I am more a part of the game; that fantasy football gives me some direct connection to it and I do not think there is anything wrong with that as some seem to think.  But, that aside, what I mention above is the undeniable bottom line:  I am a bigger football fan because of fantasy football; my knowledge/understanding of the game and its players is way more comprehensive than the average fan's, period.

    I have also taken to the purely "human" creative and artistic opportunities that fantasy football has afforded me.  Ever since our first draft out at a sports bar in 1990, I have enjoyed planning the meeting and preparing all the goodies for it like hand-making the draft boards.  The product you see here now at started out as a mere league site in 1999:  all of the features, "the Gridiron" forum, "the Gridiron Newsstand", this very fantasy articles section, are all outgrowths/offspring of my strictly creative energies and what once was just a little league site.  I do not really care to discuss my fantasy team in the GBRFL with other league mates, no less some random dude, who I can realize could care less.  It is really these creative outlets that bond me to the hobby rather than incessant discussion about my team, which means absolutely nothing to anybody else, except those in the league and even then really only on the weeks that they have to play me.  Then, they really care (wink, wink)!

    HOWEVER, on the show, that HBO show I mentioned way back, a picture depicting any of that in my lengthy digression there was not painted.  Instead, we were shown a very different snapshot of the fantasy football landscape.

    First, (sing it with me now) we were off to meet "The Wizard", the wonderful self-proclaimed wizard of fantasy football,... adorning his Dungeons & Dragons wizard's hat, wand, regalia and all.  The guy's daughter hates fantasy football, i.e. what it has done to her father and the embarrassment it causes her and their family.  He never takes the opportunity to address that important "family" issue, just laughs it off.  Great image for the hobby!

    Next, they met with an owner of one of our "(self)-esteemed" fantasy football web sites, a site, which will remain nameless herein along with its owner, that takes number-crunching, very literally, to an extreme that is absolute fantasy... fanaticism.  In any case, this fantasy football "professional" readily admits to his slovenly life, boldly letting the film crew take shots of his bedroom, an absolute pigsty that he can't even use.  As he puts it, he doesn't have the time to clean it and just sleeps on the couch, anyway.  Thank God they did not show his kitchen!  I probably would have projectile-vomited.  Again, a wonderful depiction of fantasy football!

    Speaking of the impact of the internet on fantasy football, the report goes on to discuss how workers with internet access at work are sloughing off their duties and spending what was made out to be insurmountable amounts of time surfing fantasy football web sites.  Many of you are doing this right now, I'm sure.  Whatever!  If it has a negative effect on your production, that is one thing, but if it does not, whatever.  If it is costing you your marriage, that is one thing; if not, whatever.  If it is causing you to live in a pigsty, that is one thing; otherwise, whatever.  It ultimately is no different than anything else in life, any other pastime, be it stamp-collecting, fly-fishing, watching TV, golf, etc., etc., all of which can become obsessions.  If it causes your priorities to go out of whack to a point of dysfunction, you need to deal with it.  That is not something particular to fantasy football like they and the people they chose to profile on the show make it seem.  In any event, this is where they took the opportunity to make the gambling and pornography analogies, two activities that can hardly simply be called "hobbies".

    Then, they interviewed the guy who is purportedly credited with popularizing rotisserie baseball, a precursor to fantasy football, in the 70's.  He admits that to some degree he regrets what he started, a point of contention as the roots of rotisserie baseball can allegedly be traced back to as early as the 40's.  Anyway, he tells a story about meeting up with some fanatical rotisserie baseballer in a public bathroom somewhere.  This guy starts jetting questions at him as if answering his inane baseball questions is what he lives for.  As this fanatic rambles on, our proclaimed fantasy innovator does at last get to the can to relieve himself of a No. 2 when this fanatic, standing on the next toilet over, looks down over the stall divider at him, sitting on the toilet flexing his sphincter, and asks him what he thinks of his team.  Unbelievable!  Where do they dig up these people?

    But, even I must admit I have been "there"!  Case in point, just about three weeks ago I got this e-mail.  It was from a dude who has e-mailed me for advice (what a dum-dum, huh?) a number of times before, including just a week before.  Well, in his latest tedious message, this "extreme" fantasy footballer makes the following request, as though evaluating random fantasy football teams is what I live for:  "I was hoping for you to tell me of my (team's) strengths/weaknesses, as well as projections on my players and how well you think they will do this year. [including my DEFENSIVE TEAM].  ...  So again, please tell me my strengths and weaknesses, and also (how) you think each of my player(s) will fair this year," again, asked as if I care about his fantasy team, no less to the point of perusing and deciphering his scoring system, which is ultimately just a variation of the same one everybody uses and as though this or that trivial nuance in his league's system "really" affects the prospects of a player vis--vis "another" system and that that is something I actually have any interest in figuring out, anyway.  Get real, dude!  Meanwhile, and moreover, he is well aware of the FREE forum I have built with it in mind to take "some" advantage of these kinds of efforts, of which I have made many.  I have explained to this guy a couple times now that I really cannot "afford", nor do I have the time to, continue doing this for him on a personal e-mail basis, getting absolutely nothing in return, besides a self-evidently inconsiderate, hollow thank you.  The least I need is for him to post his queries at the forum, thus, contributing a post and allowing me (and perhaps other intelligent fantasy footballers) to respond in a public forum where I can at least garner "credit" for my reply, for my replying for that matter.  Whatever, this guy is probably not a guy into the healthy aspects of the hobby I laid out earlier.

    At any rate, I should have known way back when the direction the hobby was going in (at least in the immediate future) when a long time ago one of my best friends, an average Joe, who is actually still averse to using the computer, but is a fantastic fantasy footballer, said, "Anymore, I just like looking at the box scores on Monday morning.  I don't even care to watch the games (an opinion from which I have subsequently dissuaded him)."  Winds of change for the worse were on their way.  I always professed that understanding the real game was key to understanding the fantasy game and, thus, that watching the games was a key resource to success and, moreover, came to learn that it was also the fundamental element to fun and full enjoyment of the hobby.  The box score is the mundane part,... and in steps the internet in the mid-late 90's.

    The point being, the internet has had a mixed effect on fantasy football.  The faceless environment of the internet has in many respects detracted from those "human" elements I earlier discussed.  Additionally, a computer, a really powerful calculator, inherently emphasizes the numbers side of the hobby while placing less of an emphasis on the active, social aspects of it and to be quite frank, the game itself.  Ultimately, as long as we fantasy footballers continue focusing on the mundane, lifeless numbers of the game and not the whole game, including the interactive, social, human aspects, and accepting and even promoting the "FF Geek" label, a label odd and essentially foreign to those of us who played fantasy football before the internet boom, our cover men will remain the likes of "The Wizard", whose daughter is embarrassed by his participation in fantasy football, the sloth, who can't even find time to clean up after himself and surely doesn't have a female significant other to do so and comes off proud of it, bathroom-lurking stall-boy and stat-boy, instead of people who love the game, both the real game and the fantasy game as a whole, and not just the numbers of the game, and our hobby will continue to be brazenly bashed in the popular media like it was on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumble this past weekend.

    Now, go pick up the phone and give a buzz to one of your fellow fantasy footballing friends and chew the fat, on football, fantasy football, on life.  Either that or go clean your bedroom, for goodness sake!

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