Today, January 3rd, 2017, I officially declare my retirement from the game of fantasy football. I vow to never hold ownership of another fantasy football team, to never set another lineup on Sunday mornings, and to never again allow my fantasy team to take over my Sunday afternoons. This is not an arbitrary decision- it is one that I will honor and enforce and one to which those close to me will hold me accountable. I enjoyed a storied career as a fantasy football player, but that time is now history and I am now writing a new chapter in my football fandom.
I’ll miss fantasy football. Nothing compared to the intense fantasy drafts, which kept me staring, clicking, and screaming at my computer screen for hours on end. I loved when that player I’d circled fell right into my lap, and hated when he was selected one pick before. There were some uplifting, exhilarating wins and not a whole lot of losses. After five seasons and a league championship, I’ve made up my mind- I’m moving on.
Fantasy football engages a lot of fans who wouldn’t normally pay attention to America’s Game, adding a new, interactive dimension to the sport. Personally, I never needed fantasy football. I’ve enjoyed watching football since 2008. I read books about the game, emulated my favorite players when I played on my fantasy football team, and purchased jersey after jersey. The Super Bowl parties I hosted were some of the most exciting and memorable events I can remember. I loved rooting for my two favorite teams, the Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys, following their ups-and-downs every Sunday. I was already an intense, dedicated fan and scholar of the National Football League before I joined my first fantasy football league in sixth grade.
I played in sixth and seventh grade, dominating my leagues in both. Then, I called it quits in eighth grade before pulling a Brett Favre and joining not one but two leagues. This Sunday, I was in the fantasy football championships for both, with 25 dollars on the line in one league. But amidst all the successes, I could never really enjoy the game.
Through all the ups and downs and all those nail biting moments, I’ve learned many lessons over my brief fantasy football career. One was crystal clear- fantasy football and John Riker are not compatible, and will never be.
To make this clear, I don’t have it out for fantasy football fans. Fantasy football has its benefits, but today, as I announce my retirement, I’ve realized why it doesn’t work for me.
First, fantasy football has a singular focus. Football’s a mix of size, strategy and star power, and every player on the 53-man roster counts. But not in fantasy football. In fantasy football, standard teams consist of one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, a tight end, a defense/special teams, a kicker, and a flex position (running back, receiver, or tight end). That eliminates the whole offensive line, along with individual defensive players (except in IDP leagues) and special teamers.
I’m not suggesting scoring punters in standard fantasy football. But for me, fantasy football distorted the NFL, prioritizing stats over true performance and value. A stellar blocking tight end won’t receive any attention and star quarterbacks like Dak Prescott who serve in more managerial roles are marginalized in favor of the Matthew Stafford-types. Fantasy football is why Blake Bortles was viewed as a franchise quarterback. I want to see football as it really is, not through the kaleidoscope of basic statistical production.
Second, fantasy football messes with my true rooting interests. As I stated before, I’m a Cowboy and Raven fanatic. So when the top players on the board were Redskins and Steelers, I felt an extreme conflict of interest. And when I picked players from Dallas or Baltimore, teams who I watch every week, I’d root for Jason Witten or Torrey Smith to catch every pass. From a fan perspective, it was an unavoidable mess.
Sure, fantasy football gives another team to cheer for and care about, expanding horizons beyond just the players on your favorite team. But when those players are on your team’s archrival or even your favorite team, you have to choose- fantasy team or reality team.
Third, my involvement in Sundays isn’t as a gambler. Few things are harder in life than choosing between Julian Edelman and DeSean Jackson for the fantasy football championship. You make one choice, then second-guess it, and then keep going back and forth until you finally settle on a player. It can go one of two ways- work out or flop.
It feels great when the player you chose to start gets 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But when you pick the Titans defense in the Week 16 championship and they give up 38 to the Jaguars, it is infinitely worse.
I’m not the gambler type. I hate losing more than I enjoy winning when it comes to fantasy football. For me, I enjoy playing the role of analyst- watching the games and highlights, taking in statistics and commentary, and writing about and covering the league. Again, that’s just my personal preference.
This decision is final. I’m not making any more Favre-esque comebacks. I’m Barry Sanders, hanging up the cleats after a successful and brief career. I had some exciting times with fantasy football. But for me, fantasy football is now a fantasy.