The game of fantasy football has exploded in popularity over the last few years, growing into a full industry with specialized magazines, TV segments and ESPN specials.
The concept is simple: create a fictional team of real-life NFL players who score points for your team based on what they do on the field. As the game has changed from small hobby into a national beast, most media outlets can’t talk about NFL matchups without highlighting the week’s top fantasy scorers. Whether it's a high-profile quarterback, a dominant running back or a big-play wide receiver, football fans follow the NFL scoreboard for its impact on their fantasy team. But with once-diehard fans now rooting for players on an opposing team, or even their hometown’s biggest rival, is fantasy football really a good thing for the NFL? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: Anytime fans cheer for their favorite team but still hope their opponent’s top player has a good game to help their fantasy team, then you know something is wrong. A diehard Washington Redskins fan might want Dallas quarterback Tony Romo to throw three touchdowns and the Cowboys to score 40 or more points. Granted, football is just a game, and no one should be crucified for having a favorite team while cheering for certain milestones from another team’s player. But the days of fans who only care about the success of their team is gone. If you're a fantasy football fanatic, you don’t have just one favorite team, you have at least nine on any given Sunday.
Green: If anything, fantasy football has helped the popularity and recognition of the sport. East Coast residents who used to only follow their team now tune into West Coast games they might never have watched otherwise. I’m a Baltimore Ravens fan to the core, and it can be awkward when there are fantasy players on a team the Ravens are facing. But the bottom line is still what matters most to me: a Ravens win. Still, fantasy football has gotten so big that finding success means scouting and studying other teams around the NFL. That hasn’t hurt the league, only increased its following.
Riley: From a scouting standpoint, yes, fantasy football has helped us learn about players on other teams, especially those in small markets. But there’s something to be said when you're in a crowded bar watching Baltimore play Pittsburgh, and you see a Steelers fan clapping quietly to himself because Ravens running back Ray Rice just scored a touchdown and he’s on that diehard Steelers fan's fantasy roster. That kills me on the inside, and I see it way too much during football season. One of the aspects that attracted me to football so much when I was growing up was that it was “us against them” for almost every fan. Now some are turning on their own team just to celebrate a few extra points on their fantasy roster.