Dig Baton Rouge

Fantasy Life

By Josh Barrett

There are 42 seconds left in a late season contest between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders that, by most accounts, was pointless before it began. The Jaguars are losing by three touchdowns, and neither team has a shot at the playoffs.

The announcers are phoning it in, giving credit to the production crew in the truck. Your houseguests are restless, shuffling around to fetch a fresh beer from the fridge, using the restroom, or going outside to smoke a cigarette before the start of Game of Thrones.

But, screw the throne. You have the remote and will be watching every bloody second of this meaningless possession.

Jaguars’ quarterback Blake Bortles throws an incompletion. Tick. Tight end Julius Thomas catches a quick out-route. Tock. Bortles scampers for seven yards. Tick. Bortles is slow to get up, and Gus Bradley alertly calls his final timeout. Tock.

Then it happens.

On the final play of the game, Jacksonville wide receiver Allen Hurns gets past a seventh round draft pick from a Division-II school in Minnesota, wondering if he’ll have time on his way home to get a bowl of Pho from his favorite Bay Area pop-up.

Bortles reads through his progressions and sees Hurns, streaking down the sideline with his right hand raised to the sky. The ball soars through the air until it hits Hurns’ fingertips. Hurns hauls it into his gut and jogs into the house as the clock expires.

You rip open your laptop, refresh your browser, and lock your eyes to the box score as it flashes red.

125.7-119.3

An extra 12 points on a garbage time play from the double rainbow of Bortles and Hurns gives you a narrow margin going into Monday night.

You check your opponent’s lineup. The only player he has remaining is the Giant’s kicker, Josh Brown.

An anxiety riddled day later, Eli Manning’s three interceptions lead to a 24-7 loss at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys and a measly single point from Brown.

You won.

This is an example of fiction, an overture to set the mood for an article expressing my opinion that fantasy football has become the quintessential sport of the Millenial “athlete.”

For the sake of simplicity, let’s say Millennials are between the ages of 18-35. A large number of us have left our athletic peaks in the rearview along with frosted tips and Furbees.

Fantasy football is what we have left, relying on the hard work of others to suffice our shattered egos on a digital gridiron of statistics that has sealed the alliance between the geeks and the jocks. More so than Madden, fantasy football has turned athletes into a dispensable series of 1s and 0s, forcing us to chase the white rabbit over a grueling seventeen weeks in the hopes of receiving a big payday and a league championship.

Popular fantasy sites such as ESPN and Yahoo! provide so much information these days that all it takes to win a league is to have a lucky auto-draft or waiver wire pick-up.

DIG is a Baton Rouge based magazine, so the base is most likely to have played last year in a league that coveted New York Giants’ wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. He missed the first four games of the season and found himself relegated to the waivers in most leagues for the beginning of his historic rookie season.

Then Beckham became the guy that made the catch that they put on the cover of Madden and exploded over the final twelve games of the season for 1,305 yards and twelve touchdowns on 91 receptions.

Beckham was on 41% of all championship rosters last season.

As the Tralfamadorians would say, “so it goes.”

In 2009, Jeff and Jackie Schaffer’s semi-scripted show about a group of friends competing in a long-running fantasy football league debuted on FX to mediocre ratings.

Now on the backside of its final season, The League has become a cultural icon, introducing us to popular phrases like “forever unclean,” “guest bong,” and “vinegar strokes,” as well as unforgettable characters like Rafi (Jason Mantzoukas), Dirty Randy (Seth Rogen) and the rest of the Ruxin clan, Rebecca (Lizzy Caplan), and Rupert (Jeff Goldblum).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_7Qdjr10Mo

While the show surely can’t be blamed for consistently delivering laughs, fans of the show are turning their own leagues into an inundated outlet for the individuality sans originality that has come to define the Millennial generation.

I play in three leagues, and of the 31 teams I’m competing against, five of them have a team name inspired by the show. For those of you who don’t like math, that’s 16% and some change. That’s a ridiculous market share, rivaling only sex puns for the most common team names.

Yes, the story of The League is about a group of friends in a fantasy football league, and, I get it, people are more likely to think that you’re clever if they get your reference, but it is ultimately a show about a group of misfits bonding over a shared interest that ensures them a venue in which to interact with their own kind for a quarter of the calendar.

When did that quit being enough?

Speaking of television, if you’ve stared at the idiot box at any point in the past few months, you’ve undoubtedly seen a commercial for daily fantasy sites like FanDuel or DraftKings. While it is illegal in Louisiana to gamble on fantasy sports, daily fantasy league sites like these are legal in 44 other states. The other five states where it is currently illegal to gamble on fantasy sports are Arizona, Iowa, Montana, Nevada, and Washington.

One can only speculate why states with such strong ties to the gambling industry would want to keep these sites illegal.

A class action lawsuit recently filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, titled “Johnson v. FanDuel, Inc. et. al.” alleges that the company fraudulently misrepresented itself by saying that they would provide players with money that actually went to the company’s employees through fees and contest prizes.

This suit comes at a time when a DraftKings employee won $350,000 the week that he was allegedly privy to insider data. It should be noted though that the employee has since been cleared of any wrong doing, however, cases like these chip away at the collective trust of the public and can crumble empires like monuments to the old gods.

Despite believing that daily sites constitute gambling, Ryan from Houston is still an avid participant. He says, “I play a ton and don’t understand why it’s not gambling. It looks like gambling it feels like gambling, it’s gambling. But I love it.”

Finally, I want to take a moment to praise the increasing number of women playing fantasy football and the improved reception that they’re receiving online. The internet can be a cruel place, especially for women gamers, but in the leagues I play in with at least one woman, the attitude towards their inclusion has been overwhelmingly positive, and while my experiences surely don’t match that of everyone else, it’s good to see that the barometer appears to be moving in the right direction.

Last season, Danielle, the fiancée of one of our founding members, won the league. She had the stones to draft Beckham in a later round, keeping him on the bench until the time was ripe and she was able to reap her reward. This year, Danielle’s in second place and has a strong chance of repeating.

“They’re outdated and sexist,” Danielle said when asked about men who out think that women can’t or shouldn’t play fantasy football. “Women are used to being told they shouldn’t do certain things because of their sex, and women are used to breaking those barriers. This is just another barrier to break, but really I’ve only had one or two guys tell me women can’t play fantasy football. Most guys are actually impressed and think it’s cool that I play. We’ve come a long way.”

The parity provided from fantasy football could prove to be a way for the NFL to bridge the gap with women, who, according to a SportingNews report, constitute 45% of the NFL fan base, as they deal with their ongoing domestic violence image crisis.

Despite my seemingly overwhelming cynicism, fantasy football is still my favorite game, and I will continue to play it for the foreseeable future, but it has become infected with a desire to peacock our lack of originality and beat our friends and enemies on the hardworking backs of men literally shortening their lives to entertain us.

The game is growing hand-in-hand with the league, and so long as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell remains the Caligula of the digital colosseum, profiting from our indulgence in watching pain inflicted upon others, we can only expect so much.

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