Fans in fantasy leagues can use a reality check

Other voices

May 12, 2007|By Kevin Eck

When it comes to current popular culture and sports, I feel as out of place as a Mensa member at a convention for Pittsburgh Steelers fans.

I don't watch American Idol, I don't think Will Ferrell is all that funny and I couldn't name one Jay-Z song.

I'm also convinced that I'm the only sports fan on the planet who isn't in a fantasy league. I know it sounds crazy, but I actually intently follow major league baseball and the NFL simply because I love the sports.

The new mantra for sports fans, however, seems to be: It's not whether your favorite team wins or loses, it's how you play the fantasy game.

There's no denying the fantasy craze has changed how we watch sports and how it is covered by the media, but, to me, it isn't for the better.

My contention is that if the actual games, standings and stories aren't enough to keep your interest, then you're not a true sports fan.

It's not that I'm anti-fantasy. It's just that most of my fantasies involve Drew Barrymore, not Drew Brees. I know this puts me in the minority, but I prefer fantasy to reality on television (give me Jack Bauer saving the world - again - on 24 anytime over the glorified karaoke contest that is Idol), and reality to fantasy in sports.

Unfortunately, no matter how hard I try, I can't get away from this fantasy nonsense. That's just reality.

Fantasy sports have invaded sports sections - including this one - all over the country. The two sports publications that I subscribe to are devoting more and more space to fantasy. It's a subject on sports talk shows. You can't even watch an NFL game or a sports highlight show without being subjected to fantasy discussion or "Fantasy Impact" graphics.

My biggest problem with the proliferation of fantasy sports is that it has created a Bizarro sports world.

For example, in the real world, we dislike selfish athletes and players who care more about their stats than winning, and we value players who put the team first and do the little things to win.

In the fantasy world, of course, it is the exact opposite. As much as Yankees fans chide Alex Rodriguez for being just a "numbers guy" and Derek Jeter for being a "winner," I wonder how many of them would take Jeter over A-Rod on their fantasy teams? Beyond glorifying individual stats rather than team accomplishments and not taking clutch performances into account, fantasy sports create conflicts of interests among fans.

For instance, consider this surreal moment when a Yankees game was on television in the office recently and Rodriguez homered.

"Yes! A-Rod goes deep again!" one of my co-workers excitedly exclaimed as he clapped his hands, proving that while there's no cheering in the press box, there is cheering in the sports department.

The problem was that the guy doing the cheering was wearing a Red Sox cap and is a full-fledged member of Red Sox Nation.

"You're an A-Rod fan now?" I asked, as if I had just witnessed Ann Coulter wearing a Barack Obama campaign button.

"He's on my fantasy team," he replied with a grin, still basking in the glow of A-Rod's prodigious blast.

A Red Sox fan cheering for A-Rod. Talk about a twisted fantasy. But that isn't even the worst thing that I've seen.

During the Colts-Ravens game at M&T Bank Stadium in 2005, I nearly choked on my $5 hot dog when my friend sitting next to me reacted the way he did after Marvin Harrison's third-quarter touchdown increased the Ravens' deficit to 10 points.

While I was kicking my seat and muttering a few curse words, my friend sighed and said, "Oh well, at least I have Harrison on my fantasy team."

Thankfully, I will never have to experience such mixed emotions, because no matter how much I am inundated with fantasy sports mania, and no matter how many times I am invited to join a fantasy sports league, I have vowed to keep it real.

The only time you will hear me use the word "fantasy" in a sports context will be in a discussion about the likelihood of the Orioles winning the World Series this season.

kevin.eck@baltsun.com

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