Former NFL Player Nate Jackson Wades Into The 'Brutality' Of Fantasy Football
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
If you don't know what I mean if I were to ask you are you in a PPR league and who's your handcuff for Russell Wilson, then clearly you are not one of the more than 75 million Americans who play fantasy football. So let me translate. I'm asking if you keep score by points per reception and which player you'll substitute if quarterback Russell Wilson gets hurt.
Just like real life football is its own world and has its own language and has become a huge business, fantasy football has, too, to the tune of $11 billion a year, so says our next guest Nate Jackson who played both. He spent six seasons in the NFL. You might remember him from his best-selling memoir about his time in the league called "Slow Getting Up." Now he has a new work about his latest obsession - "Fantasy Man: A Former NFL Player's Descent Into The Brutality Of Fantasy Football," and Nate Jackson is with us now from NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Hello. Welcome back.
NATE JACKSON: Hello, Michel. How are you?
MARTIN: I'm good. So how did you get into fantasy football?
JACKSON: Well, when I stopped playing the real thing, I was a bit adrift in the world. And I was exploring some new things. I was writing, and I have a group of buddies - high school buddies, college buddies, childhood friends - that play fantasy and have been for a long time. Those guys asked me if I wanted to be in their league, and so I accepted graciously and gotten to see the other side of the coin, the way fantasy football fans analyze the game. And I thought it was an interesting template for a book to see the fantasy world versus the reality.
MARTIN: You make the case that fantasy football is actually even a bigger business than real football. How is that possible?
JACKSON: Well, it's attracting all these new eyeballs, and so it's giving people a stake in games that otherwise they would not be interested in at all. So if I have a guy on the Carolina Panthers on my team, I might be more inclined to watch a Carolina Panthers game where typically I would have no interest in it. And so it seems as if the full saturation of fantasy football is something that the NFL is behind because they are endorsing it. They are marketing it, and it's become a big money-maker.
MARTIN: The subtitle of the book is a former NFL player's descent into the brutality of fantasy football. Now, you have plenty of exposure to the brutality of real football. What's so brutal about fantasy football?
JACKSON: Well, it's brutal the way we objectify these guys and the way we treat them on our fantasy teams when they're not working for us. When a guy sustains some debilitating injury that's going to involve surgery, rehabilitation, medication for that human being, we just cut him. He's gone for us.
MARTIN: I got to ask you about that. I mean, here is a guy you - who wrote a whole memoir about - you know, you described so vividly just the pain that you're - I mean, what your body goes through - you turned into that guy?
JACKSON: No, I didn't. For me to have to be able to satirize the fantasy football world which is what I do in the book, I had to kind of play both sides of it. I had to dive into it. And I do have a conflicted relationship with the sport. I love the sport of football. I don't love the business. I don't love the way it objectifies players.
But I was kind of trumpeting the conventional wisdom of the fantasy football world which does rejoice when a player is injured.
MARTIN: At the end of the day, do you think that fantasy football is good for the sport or not?
JACKSON: I don't think it's good for the game. I think it flies in the face of pretty much everything that we have been taught as football players growing up, and I'm not saying that everything we were taught is correct. But what fantasy football does is it tells you that the results of the game doesn't matter. The only thing that matters are your statistics, and if they're not relevant then be gone. We don't need you around. Every football player every - especially every offensive player - in the NFL wants the ball in his hands. They have the ball on their hands in college. They get to the NFL and assume that's going to be the way. But a lot of us have to take lesser roles because that's what we're asked to do.
But fans believe that this guy should be getting X amount of catches, X amount of yards and when he doesn't get that, they attack him. And they attack him on social media, and they make him feel like a failure. These guys are not failures. They're the cream of the crop. They've worked their entire lives to perfect this trade. And then they get to the top, and they're being attacked by fans who aren't satisfied with their work.
MARTIN: So are you still going to play?
JACKSON: Yeah, probably because it's fun to hang out with my buddies, and that's kind of the dichotomy there. I know it's kind of messed up, but I think you can have fun with it without objectifying them.
MARTIN: It's kind of the way I hear people talk about men's magazines. Oh, it's just really for the writing. I'm not objectifying the women. It's just really for the writing, the articles are really good. Yeah, OK.
JACKSON: I care about the players. I want them to be healthy. I want them to be prepared for life after the game. I want them to be empowered within the system which they're not now. And so in a way, fantasy football allows me to root for the players themselves to take control of their lives within the system.
And so even though now they are kind of being objectified, perhaps this is moving towards a moment where they can take some of the power back. I mean, you see Colin Kaepernick taking a stand for something he believes in, and maybe that is a product of him feeling empowered as an individual in a system that always tells individuals shut up and play. We don't want your opinion.
MARTIN: Nate Jackson is a former NFL wide receiver. His memoir "Slow Getting Up" was a New York Times best-seller. His latest book is "Fantasy Man: A Former NFL Player's Descent Into The Brutality Of Fantasy Football." He was with us from NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Nate Jackson, thanks so much for speaking with us.
JACKSON: Thank you so much, Michel. It was good talking to you.
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