Fantasy Football Taken Too Seriously

Nate Levinson, Sports Editor

Since its online inception in 1997, fantasy football has changed the way many fans watch NFL games. The virtual game has given meaning to games where there was none before. Fantasy football team owners can watch games of players they own in cyberspace with keen interest, even if the game is a blowout or the teams don’t interest them.

The Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimated that over 33 million people were playing fantasy sports in 2013, with the majority playing the football variety. Mainly due to the NFL’s shorter season, fantasy football has caught on in a way that its baseball, basketball and other sport counterparts have not. Many fans have accepted the online game as an integral part of the NFL season, with fans following the players they draft as closely as the teams they root for.

Unfortunately, the impact of fantasy football hasn’t been all positive. Recently, a number of high-profile players have spoken out against it, saying owners’ passions have gone too far.

In the midst of a lackluster 2013 season, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has been chastised by the people who drafted him for their fantasy teams. Early in the season, Rice took to Twitter to say that he was no longer a fan of fantasy football because of “spiteful and hateful” words he was receiving from fans.

Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans and Brandon Jacobs of the New York Giants have had similar issues. Jacobs even received death threats after an injury kept him from taking the field for an October matchup with the Minnesota Vikings. The fan later apologized to Jacobs on Twitter, but the incident indicates that the NFL may have a huge problem on its hands. Is it possible that someone might actually act on an irrational impulse to physically hurt a player if that player didn’t adequately perform for a fantasy team? For now, I say no, but the mere fact that this question needs answering presents an issue.

The problem has come to light recently, since forums like Twitter are making it easier than ever for fans to interact with players. While this helps keep fans closer to the game, it means fans also have a direct route to criticizing players. Those who wish to downplay the issue might argue that players are asking for criticism by having an online presence, but comments like the ones Jacobs and Johnson have received are more than just critical. They’re hateful and unwarranted.

With large bets often being placed on fantasy football teams, a lot is at stake, and the situation is ripe for unpleasant exchanges between fans and players. Fantasy sports players spend an average of $111 on league-related costs per season. Many owners wager far more than that amount, and emotions inevitably run high.

Since football is a team sport, that so many fantasy footballers care only about how their players perform and not about the outcome of the games has irked real players. If NFL players develop a distaste for fantasy football and those who play it, I’d completely understand, but, as an avid fantasy football player, I’d hate to see a few irrational fans give the majority of good ones a bad name.

My one piece of advice to those rogue fantasy footballers: Keep it real.