Sunday, November 30, 2003

Mark Madden's dim view of fantasy football

In yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mark Madden makes it clear he detests fantasy football for what he think's it's done to the real thing. He cites the oft-used example of Donovan McNabb being overrated because he's an excellent fantasy player but his real-world stats don't measure up. He thinks that Trent Green is a better quarterback than McNabb but the fantasy "geeks" don't think so. He's even more upset about the way the network caters to the fantasy football player by running individual player stats updates during the game along with out-of-town scores. And he doesn't like people rooting against the Steelers because they have a fantasy player on the other team.

First of all, fantasy football is harmless. A few million "geeks" like myself are just having fun and finding a new way to enjoy a game we already love. And since there are so many of us, fantasy football is here to stay. The networks want to keep viewers, so they're going to show what people want to see: individual statistics. As for players being overrated or underrated, I don't recall too many sports journalists citing fantasy football stats when discussing Rush Limbaugh's comments on McNabb earlier this season. And I hope that NFL GMs don't look too long or hard at fantasy football stats when drafting players or signing free agents. To paraphrase a much-used line, an NFL manager who uses fantasy football stats as real-world evidence often ends up playing fantasy football full-time.

McNabb is a great player who does not have the supporting cast in Philadelphia that Trent Green (also a great player) has in Kansas City. Trent Green doesn't have to score an occasional running touchdown because he can rely on Priest Holmes to do it for him. Philadelphia, last I checked, had several decent running backs, but none on the level of Holmes. McNabb has to do much more to support his team than Trent Green does. I think many NFL GMs would be happy to have either QB.

There are plenty of fantasy football nuts out there who give the game a bad name, just as there are plenty of role-playing nuts who give that practice a bad image, or religious fanatics who make their beliefs look bad. Vocal minorities can ruin anything for the majority, and fantasy sports are no different. I've had to edit myself when talking about my fantasy team with people who don't play, because it is boring to hear about a bunch of guys arguing over backup running backs and kickers. But there's nothing inherently wrong with taking a real game we love and finding a way we can pretend we're really involved in it. None of us in our league harbors any belief that we'll ever actually work for an NFL team, so fantasy football is an opportunity for us to participate.

I do agree with Madden's implication that people who root against their team just for fantasy purposes are idiots, or certainly not good fans of the home team in the first place. I've never rooted against the Steelers, and I never will, no matter what the fantasy implications. Also, Madden doesn't mind exploiting fantasy geeks by taking their money for seminars, and I don't think that's a bad thing either. I see no problem with parting fools and their money. I enjoy fantasy football, but I'm not about to spend any money on supporting my habit. If I lose games to guys who pay for guides and seminars, more power to them. I've got better things on which to spend my time and money.

I noticed the omission of fantasy baseball from his article. I've never heard Madden say a bad thing about the roto-geeks who spend the entire baseball season poring over stats and trading players, just like in fantasy football. I wonder what he thinks of the baseball side of things. Maybe he doesn't mind that game as much, since baseball has always been about individual statistics as much as team play. But the stats focus in football is a recent development that cleary bothers him. Too bad. Fantasy football is here to stay, and it's not hurting anyone but the people who play it. I'm proud to be a fantasy geek.

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