In recent years, Fantasy Football has undergone an explosive transformation. Pen and paper became point and click; RB-RB has become QB-WR; millions have become tens of millions; geeky has become cool; 20-year-old males have become…pretty much anyone. My wife’s playing this year!
In addition to becoming more popular, it is increasingly mainstream. There’s now a TV channel that might as well be named “Going to a Bar To Watch All 9 Games with Your Fantasy Players at the Same Time, But in 1 Channel That You Can Get At Home”. NFL Red Zone cuts to imminent TDs and skips all the supposedly boring “3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust.”
It’s tempting to attribute all of the success of fantasy sports to easy-to-use websites replacing the old system of some poor soul searching the box scores and manually tabulating results. And surely that is a large reason for the changes we’ve seen. I don’t disagree.
But I have a theory. It’s an idea I’ve wrestled with and it attributes a darker force to our abandonment of cheering for “our teams” in favor of “our fantasy teams.”
Fantasy football is an escape from real football.
Now before you say “DUH” please let me explain what I mean. I don’t mean that fantasy football is an escape from your favorite team trudging to another 7-9 record. Surely that can be true, but I’m talking about something else:
Revelling in violence isn’t fun anymore.
No one wants to see “JACKED UP!”* anymore. When I see Reggie Bush crawling around on the ground looking for his brain I need to look away.
But while the occasional skill player demolition makes SportsCenter, you know where most of the violence occurs? The line. The front seven.
You see, most plays, Randy Moss isn’t getting hit. He’s running around with a defense back trying to get open. But usually, he doesn’t. Meanwhile his teammates on the offensive line are in a car crash every running play. In fact, offensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs, in that order, are the most likely to suffer concussions.** That list doubles as the entire set of players NOT on fantasy football teams.
Also not on your team? The special teams guys who sprint 40 yards into other anonymous guys.
Now that we play fantasy football, though, we don’t have to see that. We can watch Jennings catch a deep ball from Rodgers, get an alert that the Texans are in the Red Zone, flip over to see Johnson catch a fade, click back to Rodgers jogging in on a spread draw, and miss all the “anonymous guys running into each other over and over again.”
The receivers and many of the running backs on our fantasy team are there mostly because they’re really good at NOT getting hit.
Even the NFL teams themselves have gone this way. Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb suffered a concussion early in week 1. But later in the game Eagles linebacker Stewart Bradley was hit so hard he collapsed right on the field. He soon was sent back in the game. One of Philadelphia’s excuses was that the medical personnel didn’t see the fall because they were distracted by the injury to their star quarterback.*** WARNING: CRINGE-INDUCING VIDEO
Since then, of course, Michael Vick has taken over. The Eagles’ record–popularly attributed purely to Vick, a fantasy star–has washed away the stink of the day the Eagles sent a collapsed player back into a game.
Now Commissioner Goodell has implemented rules to help prevent head injuries–to the star players. The rules mostly apply to defenseless receivers, star quarterbacks, or the occasional running back. But what has been done for the linemen or the gunners? Safer helmets are still not mandatory. And Mr. Goodell wants to make the season longer, meaning more car crashes for those linemen.
You see, all anyone cares about, from the commissioner of the NFL to the commissioner of your fantasy league, is the fantasy players. Goodell’s made it safer for them so you can enjoy your Red Zone, Sportscenter, and Fantasycast as injury-free as possible, barring the inevitable sprained ankle or twisted knee. He’s also working to give you more chances to pay money to see them by extending the season to 18 games. You’ll love them even more as they compile “record-breaking” statistics. Meanwhile the big guys in the middle and the special teams coverage–the ones who will be ignored when they retire, the ones who have received the most violence, the ones whose accomplishments can’t be measured by simple stats–they just keep on moving in that cloud of dust and obscurity.
***I am aware Kolb reentered the game as well. I am taking the team at their word, which is that they didn’t see Bradley collapse because they were dealing with Kolb. The team also stated that they believed Kolb only had a minor jaw injury, which is plausible–he was holding and rubbing his chin when the broadcast showed him on the sideline. However, there is no way in the whole wide world that Stewart Bradley did not have a severe concussion, and I thought the team’s excuse was just too on-point to not include it. “When it happened, Kolb already was receiving attention, so it’s unknown which members of the medical staff witnessed Bradley’s disturbing tumble.” In otherwords, the whole training staff was working on Kolb while the defense toiled on. I also must note for the record that Bradley stated full support for the Eagles’ medical staff. http://www.nfl.com/news/story/09000d5d81a800a7/article/reid-eagles-followed-protocol-on-kolb-bradley-concussions