Fantasy football is an absolute boom, a billion-dollar parasitic industry, but it will be the undoing of the NFL’s century of economic and narrative dominance over American culture. It is a classic late-empire last hurrah, that moment in the life of every capitalist ideologue in which he realizes that the leg he is eating is his own.
The problem with fantasy is that it is your game now, but you’re just a dumb kid. Fantasy corrupts the way people watch the game, distorts, superficializes, and infantilizes their understanding of this most complex of sports. Its exclusive obsession with individual statistics, jubilation over serious injuries,and the death of fealty and community is the very essence of the moral void. It is not evil. It just doesn’t care.
To say that fantasy has eroded fan loyalty is far too mild. It has erased fan loyalty, washing it away in tides of solipsism and narcissism. An NFL without fan loyalty is impossible to imagine, like a music industry without record sales.
Sports fandom is and has always been a lesson in elective and inconsequent suffering. I rue that the fans of tomorrow suffer in virtual isolation, and not in geographic and familial clusters. Further, their losses are losses of the one. There used to be a fine balance of gloating of competitors and commiseration of comrades. Now there is only the joyless gloat of someone who won money.
Someday, what we call fantasy now will no longer be tied to blood and soil at all. Our heroes will be the fantasy players — specialized professional gamblers — not the athletes they bank on or the teams that make individual players great. I will be happy to be dead for that.
In the meantime, advancements in brain science reveal how even little bumps can have lasting and deleterious effects on the noggin, a bad scene exacerbated incalculably by the NFL’s 50 shades of coverup and PR whitewash.
The game’s talent feeders will start dwindling to a trickle, and we will suffer through an overgrowth of soccer kids with no natural predators! Football talent will ultimately be drawn, like boxing’s, almost entirely from a gladiator class where a combination of talent, heart, intelligence and end-of-rope socio-economic desperation is what’s required. Boxing, the sweet science, is a beautiful, complex, and quintessentially American part of our history, right? Someday soon, football will be, too.
Mind you, this cultural shift will take some time to happen in those places where football is an active religion: Florida, the Deep South, Texas and the Southwest, the Midwest, the North, California, Samoa, Pennsylvania, Ohio, the bayou, New Jersey, parts of New York and New England, the Mississippi floodplains, the Eastern Seaboard, Cascadia, Canada, Hawaii, the High Plains and low desert, the Carolina lowlands and highlands [turns to look directly at you] … New Paltz.
Read more installments of Village Voices by John Burdick.