I just came across this Chuck Klosterman story in Grantland about how fantasy football is changing people’s relations and expectations for players. He concludes the piece with a quote from Bob Dylan, that famous fantasy football player, that simply kills it and is well worth reading the whole thing to get to. (I’m not quoting it here, because that would be cheap.)
But while you’re reading consider that Chuck may not have the changes fantasy sports have wrought exactly right. He says, “What I’m proposing has more to do with how a few grains of personal investment prompt normal people toÂ think about strangers in inaccurate, twisted, robotic ways. It’s about how something fun quietly makes us selfish, and it’s about the downside of turning real people into algebraic chess pieces.”
I don’t think there’s any doubt that a few grains of investment from fantasy players has twisted investors’ thinking in fantasy sports. That happens. If you write about or play fantasy sports you see it all the time, the mocking of a player’s illness (mono!) or his guts (rub some dirt on it!) or delight in his injury (thank god!). But where I think Klosterman misses is in thinking this is a symptom of fantasy sports only, as if a barroom (or stadium) full of Phillies fans might not ride an player for not performing up to snuff, too.
One of the dark secrets of our obsession with sports, all sports not excepting the fantasy version, is the way we as fans invest our time and passion in a player or team and the way that investment can privilege us to strip away the humanity of the players involved and turn them into our entertaining (and sometimes disappointing) pawns.
It can, at times, seem as if the act of putting on a uniform turns the player into some sort of superhero, who is expected to endure the savagery that is heaped upon him in exchange for the veneration and material rewards he receives. This is not a function of the fantasy game, which really takes the original local team relationship and extends it to the entire universe of players in the league. Rather than focusing on our disappointment with our local football team and its players, coaching and management, in fantasy we apply those same emotions to a broader universe of players drawn from across the country, plus we have to confront our own failures of coaching and management layered on top. That’s one horse-sized bitter pill at times to swallow.
Klosterman gets at this in his conclusion, but I think the difference he draws between real fandom and fantasy fandom is without distinction. The danger here is in the competitive gasses sports rooting fracks out of us. In both cases, that’s something we should not be proud of. Instead we might try to root better, though it doesn’t sound like Bob Dylan expects us to.