And if you’re a fan of actual sports, you should, too.
I am no stranger to fantasy sports (perhaps more like an estranged cousin), so I do not speak from complete ignorance. Back in 2004, I found myself playing fantasy baseball for the MLB playoffs. Granted it wasn’t a full season, multiple teams could draft the same player, and I was playing in a league of complete strangers, but it’s experience nonetheless. In fact, it was actually kinda fun. I picked up a handful of Astros (who didn’t make it past the NLCS that year), and found myself in second place going into Game 4 of the World Series. Keith Foulke ended up getting the save for the Red Sox that night, securing the first title for Sox Nation in 86 years, as well as my first (and only) fantasy sports championship.
Certainly, it’s exciting to see how your managerial moves play out in real life. The tension between control of rosters and utter helplessness in their performance can be addictive. Fantasy can even be informative, as you learn the names of a lot of players who don’t get much national coverage. But most of all, it adds another level to the personal investment fans can give to their sports.
And that is where it has gone astray.
A person can get so enraptured by their fantasy team that the professional sport itself becomes all about them. People begin valuing their made-up teams more than the actual teams that go out there and play. Top priority lies in making sure your guys get the stats you need to win your weekly league matchups, not in the professional teams actually getting the “W.” In a world that seeks instant gratification and is increasingly “Top 10” aware, fantasy sports undermine teamwork and glorify individual efforts.
Which leads me to my biggest pet peeve: nothing bothers me more than seeing someone cheering for their fantasy players against their hometown team. Someone who would abandon their team so quickly in lieu of plays favorable to an imaginary, temporal, and statistics-driven team does not display the loyalty required to merit the label, “fan.” A true fan should value the prosperity of their sport and/or favorite team above all else.
True fandom will survive through even the worst of times (read: teams). Sadly, living in Houston is not easy as far as fandom goes. Recently, we’ve suffered through the Yao/T-Mac injuries, the embarrassing underperformance of the Lastros, and the Texans’ first 9 years without a playoff appearance. During this time, many fans were revealed to be bandwagon ones, and even more people became skeptics who no longer desired (or were too emotionally scarred) to support the teams here.
Fantasy sports have capitalized on the damaged psyches of fans not just here but all across our nation. People have replaced their favorite professional teams with new ones that they can cheer for: the ones they have created themselves.
But don’t get me wrong, there are some people out there who actually get it right. Despite having many views that differ from those of my colleague Jonathan Mok, I have a deep respect for his opinions. I know that at the foundation of all his arguments is a deep respect for the game, and a desire to see his hometown teams do well. This even seeps into his fantasy sports mentality, where the Houston _________s still take top priority.
And that’s all I’m asking for, fantasy players. I’m sure many of you are true fans who maybe, just a little bit, have wandered off the path of true fandom. My fellow sports lovers, let us seek to value the actual sports and teams first and foremost, and stop living in a fantasy world.
Photo courtesy of playasonly.com