#Winning by not playing fantasy football

A fantasy football draft board. (Photo by Andrew Dupont/flickr.com, Creative Commons license)

It’s Monday and I don’t have to play quarterback, coach or owner.

I don’t have to wonder how that player getting ready to play Monday Night Football will help me win that tight fantasy matchup.

I’m no longer playing the game of selecting men playing this most American of all games. I’m not playing fantasy football and I feel like I’m winning because of it.

The Fantasy Trade Sports Association estimates that 57.4 million U.S. residents played fantasy football this year. It feels like I’m one of the few not playing, but I’m OK with being in what feels like a minority even if it’s not.

The league I was in with some co-workers dissolved. Another one extended an invitation. I never said yes, partially as an experiment.

I was not a great fantasy player in baseball or football, though I enjoyed the wrangling, the banter, the occasional winning. But given the opportunity to quietly opt out, I took it.

Fantasy football, even before the growth of FanDuel and Draft Kings, has been growing. Players are spending more time and money on a game that uses the performances of pro athletes to determine wins and losses among friends or strangers.

Fantasy football is changing in that way. What was a way for friends to connect, to stay in touch after college ended, is becoming a way of taking a risk with a payment behind it on a website to see if you can win some money individually. It sounds like gambling to me, though the debate is swirling about that.

On average, players 18 years or older are spending $565 to play fantasy football this year. Again, sounds like gambling to me.

Players spend about three hours a week, on average, on their fantasy teams. I probably didn’t do that and hence wasn’t as competitive, but I paid attention. I read articles about whether Arian Foster’s hamstring was healthy. I cursed when a kicker missed a field goal that would have given me a win.

I set a lineup and then I watched both the televised NFL games and the ticker of fantasy results that flows underneath. I would pull out my phone or iPad multiple times and check the progress of the match-up I was in from Thursday night to Monday night and then do it all again.

I paid attention, justifying it as I played the game. The worst indignity in a fantasy league is a player who doesn’t care enough, right? We all said that made it less fun.

I don’t miss it. I don’t miss the rush of adrenaline that comes when one of your players scores a touchdown. I don’t miss the pressure, slight as it was given the stakes of a $20 league, to turn in a lineup in time.

But the real reason I’m happy to not be playing football is how it removes me one step further from being an NFL fan.

I love football. I grew up watching the sport and played until I was in junior high. I never settled in on loving one team, instead favorite fantasy players often fueled my cheering.

It’s an odd game, full of gigantic men crashing into each other and chasing an oddly shaped ball. Though the action is actually just a few minutes of the 60-minute contests, the game is still fun for me to watch with its drama and the way physicality and strategy come together. Also, I’ll always believe “Friday Night Lights” is one of the best television shows ever made.

Not playing fantasy football means that I can care less about the NFL and there are at least three reasons that’s a good thing:

It’s a violent game. The evidence of what the game does to those who play it is disturbing. You can say that the men who play it choose to do so and choose to potentially put themselves in harm’s way. Perhaps that’s true. Perhaps these men can achieve the American dream and become wealthy by what they do with their bodies. NFL great Junior Seau shot himself in the heart and died in 2012. His brain had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, caused by years of playing this game. Same goes for Dave Duerson, who shot himself a year earlier. Playing professional football doesn’t end this way for everyone, but playing the game clearly damages the bodies of those who play it. If I cheer that massive hit, am I really cheering for their eventual demise years later?

The league doesn’t take violence off the field seriously. The handling of Ray Rice’s domestic violence case, when there was clear video evidence of him hitting his fiancee in an elevator, shows that the league values its image more than decency. Now there’s Greg Hardy, the Cowboys defender who was defended by his team and the league though pictures have surfaced showing evidence of abuse of his then-girlfriend in 2014. He threatened to kill her, according to court documents. He was still playing in 2015 as team and NFL officials either kept silent or even defended him.

I don’t want to champion all who play this game. There are clearly good men in this game. But many struggle to be good men. As Coach Eric Taylor said in “Friday Night Lights,” “You know it’s a man’s game. Men play this game. Not just any men. Angry men. Tough men. Fierce men.”

I want to be a man who loves his spouse, is known as being kind, and lives with integrity. Some in this league do that. Yet it’s more than a struggle for many. Sadly, former coach Tony Dungy and his values are an exception rather than commonplace.

I still enjoy watching football as a game, but not as much as I did. I’m increasingly a casual fan, though I can’t yet completely ignore the top 25 college teams or how the young men sporting golden helmets for the University of Notre Dame fare.

When it comes to the NFL, I’m weaning myself. Yesterday was a Sunday and I didn’t watch a minute of football. I didn’t have to.

I didn’t have to wonder how “my team” was doing. I didn’t lose a dime or a wink of sleep.

That was more glorious than any big hit.