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The reality of fantasy football

by Jim Longworth

When I was just a snip of a lad, I loved to pretend that I was Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100 points, or Mickey Mantle hitting a tape-measure home run. The Stilt and the Mick were my fantasy players, and I often imagined how they might perform against other legendary opponents. It was great fun, but I no longer fantasize about professional athletes anymore, because I’m not 8 years old anymore. The fact is, you’re supposed to grow out of those fantasies as you grow up. Even the Bible backs me up on this point, saying, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child, but when I became a man, I put aside childish things.”(First Corinthians 13:11). So how, then, do you explain the popularity of fantasy football?

Fantasy football is, by some accounts, the fastest growing pastime in the nation, in which more than 37 million adults pretend to draft, manage, coach and trade real-life professional football players. There are fantasy football parties, playoffs and championships. And there is plenty of gambling — each year, millions upon millions of dollars are bet on which fantasy team will win the most games, or score the most points, depending upon which genre of pretend football you’re engaged in.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t get it. If you like to gamble, then play poker, go to Las Vegas, or hit the links and put down a wager on every hole . If you like the thrill of competition, then challenge a friend to a game of tennis, chess or darts. But why, if there are so many real activities to compete in, do so many grown men spend so much time and effort fantasizing about what other grown men can do?

It is perplexing and, in some cases, a little bit creepy.

Future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning has been widely quoted describing a typical encounter he has with fantasy football fanatics.

Fantasy fanatic: “Hey Peyton, great game last week.” Manning: “Yeah, but we lost.” Fanatic: “But you threw for four touchdowns, and that’s all I needed from you.”

Retired NFL quarterback Jake Plummer echoes that sentiment, reportedly saying that fantasy football has ruined the game.

Perhaps I shouldn’t care what other folks do to pass the time away, but in reality, fantasy football fanatics are having an impact on all of us. According to Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, fantasy football is costing employers billions of dollars in lost productivity. Challenger found that fantasy footballers spend a minimum of one hour per week managing their pretend rosters while at work, and, based on an average hourly wage of around $19, that means fantasy football “managers” cost their bosses around $435 million per week. A Reuters report puts the figure at over $1 billion per week, and all this occurs during a 15- to 17-week season.

In fairness, CG&C also reported that employers who allow fantasy football activities in the workplace might benefit from worker loyalty, but billions of dollars in lost productivity is nothing to sneeze at, especially when our economy is still’  sagging, and there are still 15 million people out of work, who would love to have jobs in which they actually work a full 8 hours per day. And, given our trade imbalances and mercurial GDP, that means fantasy football is much more than a national pastime, it is a national problem. Some market observers have suggested that a ban on workplace fantasy football activities is the solution, but Challenger warns that such a ban could have a detrimental effect on worker morale. Well boo, friggin’ hoo. Jobs are scarce, and we need all the productivity we can muster, and that’s no fantasy.

A lot has been made lately about the dangers of real football, especially the growing frequency of concussions, so playing a fantasy version of the sport would naturally be safer than actually playing the real thing. But just last week, several NFL players predicted that if the league keeps eliminating physical contact, professional football as we know it will cease to exist in the not-so-distant future. If that happens, then fantasy football fanatics will really be managing fantasy players, because no real players will actually exist.

Finally, I can’t prove it, but fantasy football might also be contributing to problems in our society other than the aforementioned economic ones. For example, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o spent the last three years dating an imaginary girlfriend, and just last week, President Obama said that he would not allow his imaginary son to play football. I long for the day when America once again becomes more a nation of producers and less a nation of pretenders. Anyway, that’s my fantasy.

JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11am on WMYV (cable channel 15).

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