Guest Column: Fantasy sports clouding our judgment of what’s important in sports

Jimmy Miller is a journalism major and managing editor of The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]

Jimmy Miller

The 2015 fantasy football season–I mean the 2015 NFL season–kicks off tonight when the Pittsburgh Steelers play the New England Patriots, but the only reason some of you know is because you’ve seen the fantasy football magazines all over the place.

Amongst my six (an absurd number, admittedly) fantasy football teams this season, I could probably field a complete NFL squad right down to the water boys and athletic trainers. I’m the general manager of football stalwarts like Dez Bryant, who notably held contract disputes with his real-life NFL team this summer regarding his contract, and I got him for $0 (the Dallas Cowboys can take his $70 million contract; I’m cool with it.)

But for some fantasy owners, the activity is all but free. In fact, fantasy football, baseball, basketball, hockey and the like are becoming stand-alone profit empires. Due to websites like DraftKings.com, people are gambling on their fantasy success at a breakneck rate, leaving me overwhelmingly convinced people would stop watching professional sports altogether if they didn’t feel like they had a horse in the race, which is downright sad.

I think athlete-fan interaction is absolutely important. It’s a big part of why I decided to be a sports reporter. However, the sports-consuming audience needs to step back and acknowledge the real problems fantasy sports can cause.

First, fantasy sports hurt the fandom experience almost as much as they help it. While it’s true we can now become invested into games we might not otherwise care about, because hey, Peyton Manning is on my team, it also causes a fan conflict disease.

A few years ago, I had box seats at the Cleveland Browns-Baltimore Ravens game, and instead of cheering with 70,000+ fans that day, I sulked that Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco only racked up 14 fantasy points for me in my playoff game. Isn’t the thrill of the fan experience more important than a team you assembled at 10 p.m. while producing a newspaper? (Not that I’ve ever done that, of course.)

Our fantasy success also suddenly takes precedent over the gameplay of real, professional athletic action. Some Philadelphia Eagles fans complained in 2007 when their running back Brian Westbrook took a knee just inches from the goal line so the opponent wouldn’t get the ball back, and the Eagles would win the game. Those fans got an Eagles win but missed out on edging their online opponent.

We even tend to ignore the severity of injuries and sports social problems because there are benefits for us. For example, fans who became irate when Green Bay Packers wideout Jordy Nelson suffered a season-ending injury this preseason fall under this category, as do those who were more upset Ray Rice couldn’t play “for them” last season than the fact there’s video of him punching his then-fiancee in an elevator.

Simply put, fantasy sports are making us a bit ignorant. We are now lacking understanding of what injuries really mean to athletes, as well as the appreciation factor.

Manning for example, might be playing in the last season of his historic, decorated career, and I sure wouldn’t want to miss it because I’m too consumed with how many touchdowns Bryant finishes with this Sunday.

Jimmy Miller is a senior editor for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]