Fantasy football fans have been suffering silently for the past week. And I'd like to say something on our behalf.
It’s been a long week for the NFL. First the release of the Ray Rice video, then the arrest of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson on child abuse charges, and now increased scrutiny on other domestic violence cases league-wide.
Still, those are real-world problems. They shouldn't affect our Sunday football escapism — a solid 10 hours of quality couch time away from this cold, cruel world—and our bothersome families.
Fans who tuned into SportsCenter Sunday morning expecting a healthy dose of pregame look-ahead analysis were instead subjected to an hour-long special dubbed "The State of the NFL", hosted by Hannah Storm. For more than 60 minutes, reporters, pundits, experts and others gnashed their teeth, castigated, blamed, and apologized for a football culture that has sustained quite a few blemishes of late. ESPN, by far the NFL’s biggest broadcast and media partner, went above and beyond to show that it cares about the issue of domestic violence. Storm’s voice quivered and her eyes glistened at the end of the show while recounting her daughter asking why Ray Rice wasn’t behind bars after video surfaced last week showing him brutalizing his wife in an Atlantic City elevator.
“Are we supposed to compartmentalize everything that’s happening?” Storm asked. “Are we supposed to ignore the violence off the field and only pay attention to the violence on the field?”
But after the hot takes and the tears, I was still no closer to knowing whether or not to start Brandon Marshall on my fantasy team. Adding insult to injury, Storm juxtaposed Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson sobbing out a statement earlier this week – where he decried domestic violence – with the Panthers’ refusal to bench their own woman batterer, offensive lineman Greg Hardy, who beat his then-girlfriend before she says he threw her on a bed full of guns and threatened to kill her. An hour after Storm's report, two hours before kickoff, the Panthers were shamed into benching Hardy.
The impact? For us fantasy football owner who have Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton—a guy who relies on Greg Hardy for defensive support—let me just say, hey, Hannah, the things you report on have real consequences. Thanks a lot.
We Americans love our escapist pursuits—football, celebrities, movies, assorted housewives (those of the real and/or desperate variety) —but we want our escapism unfettered by reality. What we don't want are these vast fantasy worlds contaminated by unwelcome social issues that creep into and ruin our fun. Football is great. But real-world football involves uncomfortable realities about domestic violence. No thanks.
And the last thing fans like me want to do is face the root causes of these problems, or consider how millionaire gladiators who got rich beating the hell out of each other also beat the hell out of other people in their lives. What good can come from that? Will the answer to such social problems help me know whether to start Matt Forte over LeSean McCoy on Sunday? Will it help my beloved Jets establish a solid run game? And if not, why should I be bothered?
It’s not that we shouldn’t be discussing these issues, Hannah. It’s just that Sunday morning isn’t the right time. Or Mondays, because Monday Night Football. Also, Thursday nights aren’t great now, since there are games then, too. And we all know Saturdays are for college football, and I like to follow the local high schools on Friday nights, because these kids are gonna be playing on Saturdays soon. I’ll tell you what; I have a little time on Tuesday afternoons after I set my initial lineup. Let’s squeeze in a talk about domestic abuse then.
After all, none of this is our fault. We’re just fans. Why should we suffer the price of lost fantasy points and uncomfortable conversations? Guys like me just want to relive our prep school glory days, when my limited athletic abilities earned me a place on the smaller stage, before the other guys got bigger, faster and better. I just want the weekends (and Mondays-Wednesdays-Thursdays-Fridays) to play pretend.
Some would argue that our deification of athletes has created an environment where men become pseudo-warriors, and where youngsters who can throw, catch or block don’t need to focus on reading, writing or math. These naysayers point out that the masses’ adulation pushes these gods beyond their human limits, forcing them to play through pain, brain trauma and personal chaos, setting them up for all manner of off-the-field problems, from substance abuse to mental illness to garden variety narco-trafficking. They invoke big words like “scientific consensus from the neurodevelopmental community” and “altered central nervous system function precipitates violent behavior” and other psychobabble no one understands. I call these people “bleeding hearts,” or “soccer fans.”
For those who need it, Storm does a service. We’re looking to the media for permission to move on, and specials like hers give us the permission we need, later in the day, to turn on NFL RedZone and not miss a down. We’re sufficiently outraged. We are sufficiently aware. Now, are you ready for some football?
David Quinones is a Fusion Digital Editor who believes sport can be a metaphor for the noblest traits of the human spirit, and who likes to gamble recklessly on that metaphor.