The other day Scott passed me a fantastic column by Dave Zirin, who's always a favorite of ToTN. We had him on recently, so it wasn't a good fit for the air, but Scott knew I, in particular, would be interested in Zirin's latest piece on fantasy football. I'm a reasonably dedicated fantasy fan, and a huge Washington Redskins fan, so I latched onto Zirin's article immediately... and despaired to read that he thinks fantasy football is more disease than diversion. Zirin opines,
Those who puff the hookah of fantasy football believe that the leagues are just a harmless diversion that puts the average fan in a position to be "more involved" in the game. But behind the veneer of crunching numbers and poring over player statistics that goes into creating a fantasy team is more disengagement than involvement. Indeed, the numbers act as a moat between fantasy owner and the actuality of the game.
Basically, Zirin argues that fantasy football emphasizes the performances of individual players, forcing fans to pay more attention to the athlete than the team. I think he's right, but it's only a problem for some fantasy coaches. I used to be in a pretty intense fantasy league (so intense that I had to resign this year due to ugly politics... I get enough of politics at work, I don't need it in my recreational time!), and there were guys in the league who spent hours poring over stats, reading analysis, and checking the automatically-updating progress of their players every couple of minutes. While I wouldn't accuse any of them of abandoning their favorite teams (marquee Falcons were hot commodities, as the league was Georgia-based), their focus was definitely split, to say the least. For me, however, it made me much more aware of the league as a whole. As a long-time Redskins fan, I could speak fairly intelligently about that team, and probably about division rivals, but that was about it, till fantasy. Now I have a better understanding about the league as a whole. While it may not be terrifically deep, it's definitely more broad, and it makes Sundays even more fun, since I have six or seven years of fantasy teams behind me and can follow the players. One year, for instance, I had tons of Giants on my team, so I still follow Ike Hilliard (now in Tampa Bay), and another year it was Colts Colts Colts, so Brandon Stokely's still a random favorite of mine, even though he's since moved on to Denver. I think Zirin's point is a good one, and he's right -- outside of my Redskins, it's still all about individual players for me -- but ultimately, the camaraderie of fantasy has only enhanced my enjoyment of the NFL season. And, lucky me, I drafted Clinton Portis this year, so no conflict of interest there!