By Austin Santiago
Published: October 24th, 2018
It has almost become tradition that I spend Sundays on my couch yelling at my television. In a world full of things to be angry about, including our ever-deteriorating environment as a result of global warming, or the fact that our government is in a state of disarray rivaled to the 1960’s, I vent my anger on this couch, on this Sunday, because the running back for the San Francisco 49ers just lost a fumble and it cost my fantasy team two points. I am one of over 41 million people who partake in fantasy football every year and like many Americans who devote a considerable amount of time into this faux sport, I realized I had no idea where it all started, or why it means so much to so many people.
For starters, like most things in the world of sports, real or fake, a lot of it comes down to money. According to the New York State Gaming Commission, daily fantasy sports (i.e. FanDuel or DraftKings) generated $3.2 billion in entry fees, and $355 million in total revenue. The massive revenue generated in New York by fantasy football is only a piece of the $70 billion industry. The fantasy football industry is $8 billion more valuable than the NFL as a whole, so it might be hard to believe that fantasy football was actually the idea of an NFL partner. Wilfred Winkenbach, was a business man, and a limited partner to the Oakland Raiders. In 1962, Winkenbach developed the idea of fantasy football in a hotel room in Manhattan along with sports writers Scott Stirling, and George Ross. Together, the three created a set of rules, and governed a game in which people could draft players from different teams onto one of their own, and reward them with points based on their performance.
The world’s first fantasy football league was called the “Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League.” It held eight different teams and was made up of friends of Winkenbach, as well as Raider associates. Winkenbach passed away in 1983, only seeing the tip of the iceberg in regards to how big fantasy football would become. Even though the amount of money fantasy football generates is astounding in its own right, perhaps the most amazing thing about fantasy football is the psychological effect it has on those who play it. In retrospect, it sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Every year millions of fantasy football players gather in homes and sports bars alike, to draft real NFL players to their fake football team. Fifteen NFL superstars to a team, all worth millions, that don’t even know we exist, and their performance often dictates our mood on Sunday afternoons.
As it turns out, there is a certain mental aspect that is unique to fantasy football. To take part in fantasy football, one must become somewhat of a statistics expert, a manager must carefully look at every matchup that week and determine which players will succeed the most based on said matchup. However, by putting so much emphasis on statistics, we forget that they aren’t a given and that a player must be given the opportunity to perform in such a manner. As explained by authors Mark Holowchak and Heather Reid in their book, Aretism: An Ancient Sports Philosophy for the Modern Sports World, “Removing an athlete’s statistics from their competitive context is as artificial as removing athletes from their social communities. Statistics fail to capture true athletic excellence-especially in team sports.”
Fantasy football has changed the way we watch the sport, as well as how we view the players. Fantasy football has become as legitimate as actual football, and for many, team allegiances have been shattered in favor of the random assortment of players we draft in August. It is not to say that fantasy has made football less enjoyable – if anything it has made the game more dynamic than ever before. In the age of fantasy football, every game matters and every play counts for something. So, from one frustrated fantasy team owner to another I say: keep playing, keep setting your lineup, keep playing the waiver wire, keep celebrating victory, and downplaying the occasional defeat. We are spoiled to be football fans in 2018 and lucky to know the joy of fantasy.