D-Fense for Fantasy Football
By Myron Moses Jackson
Fantasy football players are sometimes misperceived as parasitic fans who violate the ethical norms of spectatorship by watching for purposes that don’t depend on the actual outcome of the games. But this over-moralized critique misses what is inspiring about fantasy football as a second-order game.
We all start out playing ball in the backyard with family and friends making a miraculous move or catch in the biggest game, imitating the star we idolize. But fantasy football is more than a means to indulge childhood dreams. Fantasy Football is a novel-hybrid of real-fantasy or serious-play that generates nuanced meaning and value.
The rise of fantasy football speaks to the productive and active character of the American imagination, and how our imaginative intensity creates new ways for us to see familiar things. No sport is so holy that it can’t be adapted for new purposes, despite the reservations of purists. The games we watch today are not the same ones we inherited from previous generations. Through fantasy football as a second-order game we can raise our viewing standards beyond picking a favorite team. Fans and stars alike are transformed into the roles of coach, GM, and owner. An imaginative surge follows from more diversified levels of competition. One’s commitment and perceived level of success are improved as risk is spread out at different levels of possibilities.
Fantasy football acts as an equalizing force in which kids, fans, and even athletes themselves play for different reasons. It has captivated the consciousness and imagination of contemporary fandom and amplified the cultural role that sports plays. Fantasy Football offers a unique interaction between the game and fan, whereby the latter is not merely an observer but can now impact and integrate its interests with purposes of the franchises.
Playing with possibilities in these self-serving ways makes many people uncomfortable. But it is the adventure and uncertainty that strengthens our interaction with possibilities that enliven us, cultivating the value and enjoyment we gain from it. Winning and even morality may add to this but they are not prerequisites to pursue the desires of the heart. As the philosopher A.N. Whitehead wrote, our loves are “a little oblivious to morals.”
We continue to over-moralize our sports due to the lack of public outlets for people to pursue moral interests. It is unfair and unreasonable to expect sports to provide an adequate vehicle of ethics. Winning and “the Good” are not to be conflated. So, let the fantasy football players play on, and let’s turn our moral considerations to more pressing matters.
Dr. Myron Moses Jackson is visiting assistant professor of philosophy at Grand Valley State University. He received his PhD from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where he wrote his dissertation on a philosophical theory and interpretation of ironic American exceptionalism. Jackson has appeared on MTV’s Rock the Vote and CNN’s Talkback Live as a panelist and commentator. His current research uses the process philosophy of A. N. Whitehead to inquire into the capacity of virtual integration and entertainment to cultivate peace, truth, beauty, art, and adventure among civilized societies.