When we’re huddled in our football hideouts every Sunday flanked by our dogs wearing cute little jerseys, our focus is singular. The outcome of the game is all that matters, and if our team arrives at a positive outcome the rest fades into the background.
This includes injuries. When a player suffers an injury, there are two questions immediately racing through the fan’s mind:
- How bad is it?
- When will he be back?
Notice how that list of two didn’t include any queries about the players’ family, or his emotional or mental well-being. Those matters of personal health are a secondary concern, with the fan’s mind wired to wonder when the player in question will resume benefiting their team, and their quest for their championship on their couch.
The fan is by nature a self-centered creature, one who enjoys Sundays in his pigskin sanctuary following a long work week, and preferably Sundays that end in winning. A players’ personal health in the aftermath of an injury is only considered in the most extreme situations after a particularly devastating injury or scary illness. Jeremy Maclin’s recent brush with cancer is a prime example, and initially there was also concern for a wobbly DeSean Jackson who was barely able to walk off the field last fall after he was throttled by Dunta Robinson. Even that was fleeting.
It’s crude, cold, and a little cruel, but it’s also the reality of a sport that’s morphed into a multi-billion dollar business, and is played for the amusement of millions. Fantasy sports have only furthered this narrow scope, with money now quite literally invested in the playing status of top fantasy studs every week, and fans anxious to know whether or not their players will be suiting up for an imaginary team named “Tom Brady’s Howitzer.”
Judging by his tweet this weekend, this reality has eluded Arian Foster, the Texans running back who aggravated a hamstring injury during Houston’s preseason win over San Francisco Saturday night.
4 those sincerely concerned, I’m doing ok & plan 2 B back by opening day. 4 those worried abt your fantasy team, u ppl are sick
Foster’s frustration is understandable, but his words are said–or typed–in vain. Long before the boom of fantasy football, the sickos Foster accuses of lacking in concern existed. Now they’re stronger, and fortified by a common cause.
Go type “Arian Foster injury” into Google. Do it, I’ll wait. On the first page alone, four of the 10 results are fantasy-related.
I’m an avid fantasy footballer, and have been since the days when Wayne Chrebet was considered a quality No. 3 wide receiver, and having Corey Dillon and Tiki Barber was a pretty bad ass RB tandem. I’ve been able to watch and follow my fantasy team throughout the season while still enjoying a football game. The passion for football remains and hasn’t been affected by the fantasy game, which I consider a hobby.
I suspect though that I’m a rare case, and that fantasy football has for many ascended from hobby to obsession, especially for the high rollers whose leagues have four-digit buy-ins. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but as Peter King noted in his Monday Morning Quarterback column, it’s changed that way football is viewed and analyzed.
A team doesn’t just hire a new offensive coordinator anymore to do basic things like improve the passing or running game, or to simply win more football games. That new coordinator has an impact on the starting quarterback’s fantasy value, and we know this because the Fantasy Douche says so.
When Foster spoke to King prior to his mini Twitter venting session, he acknowledged the benefits of fantasy football’s growth, but lamented his status as a number on Sundays, not a player.
“It’s good for getting the people who aren’t normally into football — they watch the games. But I think it’s changing the way people watch the games. They’re more interested in stats … That kind of takes away from the reason we play this game, and that’s to get a ring. Don’t get me wrong — I love my fans. I love our fans of the game… But don’t get mad at a player because he doesn’t perform for your [fantasy] team.”
An estimated 18 million North Americans play fantasy sports each year. Many are so addicted that they invest up to $360 per year on various websites supplying positional breakdowns and draft advice. The beast is growing, and the fantasy game is changing the actual, real game played by actual, real humans. Foster doesn’t have to like it, but he’s going to have to get used to it.
He was rarely a person to fans to begin with anyway. He was a player existing for our enjoyment, and now he’s also functioning to serve our bottom line.