Keep Your Guard Up, Stay Angry, Never Say Die: a Rookie’s Defense of Football

Let’s get one thing straight. I’m not here to skewer anybody.

I don’t have it in me to lampoon the Athletic Industrial Complex. If this were the rough-and-tumble tear-down of casual sexism it ought to be, your eyes would probably glaze over and mistake it for Dove Branded ContentTM or a Beyoncé GIF.* It would be pointless and even somewhat rude of me to make you feel self-conscious about what brings you plea- sure on the T.V. at the bar when you’re off the clock. I have absolutely zero interest in putting your media diet on trial. That’s your work. That’s between you and your God or scientist or whatever/whomever helps you through all of this.

I’m here to talk about Fantasy Football. Specifically, about my somewhat pathetic transformation from self-righteous NFL condemner into the type of person who plans their entire weekend around searingly high-definition helpings of ESPN. Who knew so many nauseating shades of green could be televised? How can a game transfix a four-year-old with its primal mayhem while simultaneously serving as a grown man’s love language, so nuanced, it might take a lifetime to perfect? Why would anyone pay hundreds of dollars to watch a professional football game in person when they could watch every play on a screen with this level of magnified intimacy?

As an NFL novice, these are the questions you ask yourself incredulously around the third quarter of any given game. At this point, your body has fused with the woodwork of the bar. This is your new life. When asked why, you’re hard-pressed for a good answer. Watching controlled violence unfold in slow motion is like sticking your hand into a bowl of small glass beads or watching liquid fall from a great height: a well of inexplicable satisfaction.

Never in my life have I entered a competition on such reluctant terms and come out feeling so entirely, mortifyingly American. Ask anyone who was there. It was a fifteen-week parade of flamboyant patriotism. All-consuming Manifest Destiny. The honest truth is that I’m not very competitive by nature. A textbook Gamma**. For people like me, losing is sort of a sweet relief, an excuse to focus back on feelings and watercoloring and the Art of French Cooking. Crying is a gold plated invitation to shed the dead weight in my brain and KonMari*** what remains. Nothing beats the socially sanctioned wallowing of a hard-earned loss. But I am a woman working tech, so I have a chip on my shoulder the size of Texas and the near-constant desire to be taken seriously in spaces I am not welcome.

I drafted poorly — mostly players with one foot in the convalescent home — and lost my first three games. Then things got unexpectedly personal. I could no longer accept a loss. I stopped taking in so much disparate advice from random people at bars and stuck to my gut. I got my head in the game and achieved a seven-week winning streak. Don’t call it a comeback.

Theory: no one actually likes talking about Fantasy Foot- ball, unless the conversation is about their own team. In public, a rookie Fantasy Football owner operates similar- ly to a new parent, or someone who loves to discuss their own dreams. If it’s a Sunday (or Thursday, or Monday), the owner in question will undergo a vicious cycle of opening, then refreshing, then reopening of their Fantasy app, telepathically begging some poor soul to bring up “the game” in casual conversation so they can justifiably discuss any lingering anxieties around their lineup du jour and project general ill upon their opponent’s squad. I caught myself saying an actual prayer to a capital ‘G’ God, wishing physical harm upon a young millionaire I have never met.

Football is war. A literal sequence of aerial and ground invasions onto enemy soil. A mechanism for systemic violence. A capitalist instrument of willful delusion. A cess- pool of cognitive damage. A sport for actual murderers and rapists. I know I said I wouldn’t blow any of these whistles, but sometimes it’s healthier to lay your feelings out on the table. One of my waiver-wire quarterbacks led me down a particularly dark vortex of Jezebel-style con- sent reporting and men’s rights propaganda. A seasoned Fantasy player would never allow allegations like this to cloud the mathematics of his or her strategy. Eventually, around week four, I joined the ranks of the desensitized.

“So he has some anger management issues and a drug problem,” I’d say over a glass of wine and the latest reel of criminalizing surveillance tape. “Honestly who doesn’t? Are you seriously deluding yourself into think- ing that, if you had that much money and power, you wouldn’t abuse it?”

The guys in every comments section of every Fantasy column agreed. Guys like Hank from Minnesota, or Sean, the boy wonder down in Florida who seemed to be pay- ing his entire college tuition with FanDuel money. There was the occasional gun-toting Debra. I have no idea where this misdirected energy came from, only that I think I always had it in me. I became an instant kindred spirIt with these people. It was that enchanting feeling you get when you discover an object within yourself that you had previously thought to be lost.

Eventually, I did make it to the playoffs as the number one seed, losing 222 to 261 in week fifteen. In the interest of holding my head up high, I’ll chalk it up to the fact that I took some — what I’ll call noble — risks with waiver-wire rookies. I figured it was my duty, as a rookie myself, to watch the injury report like a hawk and immediately start whatever twenty-year-old kid was being given a shot that week, despite the fact that he was usually projected at five or worse. Sometimes it paid off. In fact it paid off more often than not.

The playoffs are a different story. You have to unleash your titans, which I never really had in the first place. But as you already know, I secretly love to lose. I love the quiet. My favorite part of every party is leaving. Even better if the departure is marked heroic by an inconsol- able concussion.

2015 was a banner year for American loneliness, and it was within the volatile anonymity of these forums that I could finally reckon with why. We experienced a great unbundling — our apps, our firearms, our public grief. We are now expected to digitally splinter ourselves so many times that eventually a person just needs a place to hide, to feel something without every single person you’ve ever met watching. Sometimes you just need to put a clamp on your psyche and watch it bulge out the other side.

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*2015 was the year Feminism went entirely mainstream, transforming from fringe movement to full-throttle, guns blazing marketing canvas. Arguably, it all started with that #LikeAGirl Super Bowl XLIX campaign, or that absolutely perfect Joan Didion Céline ad that came out around January. That ad was one of the first times I felt truly known and found out by an advertisement. It was also one of the first times I fully and earnestly checked my privilege.

**An online quiz once told me this. I’m pretty sure it means “People that had a LiveJournal in lieu of MySpace or Xanga in the early 00s.”

***The verb form of Marie Kondo’s iconic cleaning method, as de- picted in her 2011 book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Would recommend to a friend. Why would you carry something around that doesn’t bring you joy?

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