Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sports Talk: Fantasy Fun

As a correspondent sports writer for The Casey County News, I write an weekly editorial column for the publication. Published Oct. 24, 2012.

Whether you participate in any or not, fantasy sports leagues are not unheard of by any sports fan today. Following sports and fantasy leagues go hand in hand anymore.—literally, in the case of smart phone users. But even if you do not participate, sports commentary and major sports networks have their hand in these leagues, making all fans aware of their existence.
With technology driving these leagues today, I was surprised when I learned that the concept actually originated in the 50s shortly after World War II. To further my surprise, it was golf that started the phenomenon; however, when looking at the concept pre-technological assistance, golf would be an easier sport to follow under the fantasy platform; a sport based on individuals rather than teams of players.
Our modern idea of the fantasy league developed in the 1980s when magazine writer/editor, Daniel Okrent, began the “Rotisserie League Baseball.” Okrent’s journalistic profession brought the concept to other journalists and with the 1981 baseball strike supplying little baseball coverage, more publishing about these leagues and their rules began to be printed for general public. Soon other media sources picked up on the concept and furthered the spread of the fantasy phenomenon.
By 1988 USA Today estimated 500,000 people were playing and Fantasy Sports Magazine debuted in 1989. The internet only enriched and expanded the reach and abilities of fantasy leagues, just as smart phones have extended their existence into our moment-to-moment lives.
Fantasy sports are a serious yet comical extension part of our society now. The TV show, The League, is completely centered around fantasy football exploring how online sports obsessions affect relationships and everyday life in a comical light.  Groups plan major events around fantasy drafts and money is involved in numerous leagues.
Today, fantasy leagues serve as more than just a fun involvement for extreme fans who know and study the players and teams from season to season. They give us another extension of the games, teams and players we love. For many, it’s a way to connect with friends and family who may not be in close enough proximity to enjoy your favorite sports together.  
My brother, knowing his wife’s deeply competitive spirit, suckered her into creating a team in his football league about five years ago. She was not even a football fan until dating my brother forced her to follow Ohio State football if she wanted to spend Saturdays with him in the fall; however, upon their marriage, she had yet to find a reason to gain any interest in the NFL.
Knowing her well, though, my brother’s scheme to develop her interest in professional football worked like a charm. By having a team of players coming from numerous NFL teams, her competitive drive generated genuine interest in how these teams and players were performing from week to week. Before I knew it, she was throwing around names and stats like any other NFL fan.
Today, she continues to be one of the most competitive in the league. The fantasy league is something she and my brother enjoy keeping up with together, while also having reason to talk smack to one another, as they each have their own team. At the same time, they are able to enjoy actual games together, as they are both knowledgeable on the players and teams and have someone to root for or against.
I have yet to make time to dive deep into the fantasy world. My husband and I are also in my brother’s league—but as a joint team. We were negligent owners last season but the addition of an iPhone during the off-season has made administering the team and making last minute adjustments a much easier task.
For a long time, the fantasy league concept sounded intimidating to me. I thought it was something requiring great knowledge on teams and players prior to engaging in; now I see it’s a great educational tool for someone who wants to learn more about a sport or league.
I don’t know that I will ever be as highly competitive as many are about their fantasy teams, but I will vouch for fantasy sports’ ability to genuinely engage individuals in a sports league. This form of entertainment is not just for the fanatics who know decades of statistical history on teams and players, it’s for every sports fan or wannabe sports fan out there.

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