What's the Appeal of Fantasy Football?

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Some sports fans love their fantasy league, while others don't see the point. Who's right?

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Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Patrick Hruby (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), Jake Simpson, (writer, The Atlantic), Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), and Emma Carmichael (writer, Deadspin) talk about fantasy football.


Hey, guys,

College football—that venerable bastion of tradition, school spirit and state-sanctioned cartel economics—appears to be half-dozen conference realignments away from transforming into Unicron. At the U.S. Open, Serena Williams is solidifying her legacy as a (sometimes) all-time tennis great, while Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, and Novak Djokovic continue to play a high-stakes game of rock, paper, scissors. (Sorry, Andys Roddick and Murray!) Still, the biggest sports story of the week involves the annual return of America's favorite athletic pastime.

The National Football League? Nah. I'm talking about fantasy football.

A confession: I'm a fantasy holdout. A refusenik, really. I've never played. Time was, I could make a compelling case against fantasy sports. Only that's passé. So 2004. In the here and now, I'm like the 40-year-old virgin. Or one of those Japanese soldiers that kept fighting WWII, holed up in the jungle on some godforsaken Pacific island, decades after the war ended.

Red State, Blue State, Fatburger versus Five Guys: whatever else divides us, fantasy football unites us. We are one nation of pretend general managers, indivisible, pursuing life, liberty and Davone Bess as a draft-day steal. Fantasy has won the war. In a rout. There are fantasy-themed television shows, memoirs, coast-to-coast tournaments. It all started with Rotisserie baseball? Au contraire. Fantasy football began years earlier, in the 1960s, with a group of guys that included—no, really—a 20-something Oakland Raiders intern named Ron Wolf.

Wolf, the same guy who would go on to win an actual Super Bowl with the actual Green Bay Packers.

I've always felt fantasy was a waste of time. Oddly passive and inert. Less interactive than, say, playing Madden NFL. A way—like so much else in modern life—to turn leisure into work, spinning something I like doing when it suits me (watching and following football) into something I have to do or else (juggling lineups, deeply caring about tweaked hamstrings). I get the general idea: fantasy makes you a more involved fan because you have skin in the game. But maybe I don't want skin in the game. Maybe I enjoy kicking back and letting the little men in plastic helmets on television do the stressing in my life, at least on Sundays.

I don't know. Jake, you play. Is it time for me to take the plunge? On the whole, is the New Fantasy World Order a good thing for sports fans?

–Patrick

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Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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