An NFL Fan Without a Purpose

Might as well cancel my RedZone subscription. My survivor pool entry has been eliminated and my fantasy team is toast.* Thanks for the 10 weeks, NFL.

*Just so I’m not called a dirty liar, when I say “fantasy team” I’m referring to a unique game I created and was eliminated from this weekend.

The NFL is king of American sports by just about every metric imaginable. And while there are plenty of people who love the actual games and rooting for their favorite team, there are those, like me, who have a less romantic relationship with the sport.

Ostensibly, I’m a Jets fan. But in my younger days I liked Dallas—Troy Aikman was my hero—and as a Michigan alum I don’t even hate Tom Brady.* I own a Packers cheesehead from my trip to Lambeau and I’ll root for the Vikings to support my wife and (some of) her family. I can’t pretend my day is ruined when the Jets lose and I therefore can’t manufacture too much excitement over a win. Honestly, most of my Jets-related pleasure is derived from chanting, along with fellow fans/friends, “J-E-T-S!” at our Giants fan friend Griffin.

*I own a caricature done by a street artist of my face on Troy Aikman’s No. 8 jersey-wearing body.

I say all of that to say this: I’m interested in the NFL because I use it to compete against family and friends (and some strangers). Yes, there is money involved, but for me at least, not huge amounts. I’m in a Survivor pool—sometimes called a Knockout or Suicide pool—in which you must pick one team to win each week without repeating a team at any point. I share an entry with a friend and we had the Bengals last night. The pool had shrunk from 64 to 30 last week. If Cincinnati had won, we’d be in the final 20 with what seemed like an advantageous group of teams remaining. Of course the 8-0 Bengals, an 11-point favorite at home against 3-5 Houston, did not win. Their offense forgot the objective of a forward pass; they failed to reach the end zone and lost 10-6.

The crushing defeat came one day after I was eliminated from my own contest. I haven’t even bought a turkey yet and the regular season has become meaningless. I’m not alone.

There are millions of fans who care about their NFL team as much as I do about Michigan football or the Mets. But the league is becoming increasingly fantasy-driven. Go to a bar in New York on a Sunday and you’re just as likely to see people cheering a Calvin Johnson touchdown against the Bears as a Giants first down. People enjoy talking about their decision to start DeMarco Murray over LeSean McCoy more than the local team’s run defense. I haven’t even mentioned pick ’em contests.

This is not a condemnation of either group of fans. What bothers me is the NFL’s attitude towards gambling. They’ll step in—along with other major leagues—to block sports betting knowing the point spread drives interest in the league. Meanwhile, the majority of NFL teams have a partnership with either DraftKings or FanDuel. Roger Goodell and others talk about gambling’s potential to ruin the “integrity of the game.” But people are going to bet, legally in Las Vegas and off the books everywhere else, regardless. The leagues, even while maintaining an anti-gambling stance, are not exempt from corruption.

I’m not ashamed to admit my fantasy/gambling-driven interest in the NFL. The NFL is ashamed to acknowledge it.

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