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Week 5

A Little Fun And A Red Herring – To Be Skipped By Fantasy Diehards

If Jesus had a fantasy football team, he could cheat by miraculously healing injured players just before their matchups. That is just one of many great jokes included in this inspired video:

There is a lot to love about that video, but the academic in me is particularly fond of the point when the Jesus character derails queries with spiritual implications by telling the reporters that they need to get back on track and talk about football. The fact that the central figure of a major world religion is willing to downplay the significance of spirituality as compared to that of a hobby is indicative of the absurd juxtapositioning and unrelentingly playful sense of relativity that scholars are forever ascribing to postmodernism.

In fact, that hilarious little video persuaded me that when we talk about postmodern sports, we should be talking precisely about phenomena such as fantasy football. A Google search on the phrase “postmodern sport” turns up an article concerning a cell phone throwing contest, but my own sense is that throwing cell phones (instead of discuses or javelins) isn’t so much an example of postmodern sport as it is a sporting activity that uses postmodern equipment.

There are some fairly sophisticated discussions about postmodern sport that link sports to mass media coverage in the 20th century. The cultural critics involved in these discussions make excellent points about the bewildering popularity of the Super Bowl as an American phenomenon. I’m inclined to agree that there is something distinctly postmodern about the number of people who watch the Super Bowl not for the game, but for the ads.

But the limitation of that argument is that it is about the way in which the sport is being consumed by its audience, not the way the participants in the sport actually play the game. Of course, the critics who point to today’s NFL as an example of postmodern sport would be quick to point out that the marriage between the league and mass media impacts the way the game is played on all sorts of levels. Televising a game does change actual gameplay. There are breaks for commercials that wouldn’t affect untelevised games. Players perform for an audience that isn’t there in the stands cheering for them. Some rules (such as the link between challenges and time outs) exist not so much for the sake of fairness in the game as for keeping the game moving at a pace that the average viewer will find enjoyable.

Although I find these last arguments very persuasive, I am still not ready to call NFL football a distinctly postmodern sport. It’s much easier for me to swallow the argument that it is an ordinary sport that has adapted successfully to a postmodern world.

Fantasy football, on the other hand, strikes me as a powerful example of postmodern sport. If contract bridge can seek recognition as an Olympic event, then it seems fairly easy for fantasy footballers of the postmodern era (as opposed, of course, to those of the early renaissance) to make the case that eating Doritos and drinking beer while making lineup changes on a computer constitutes some kind of playful simulacrum of “sport.” The NFL players are the ones who do all the work and withstand all the abuse that comes from playing on Sundays, but we FFers nevertheless think of ourselves as “playing” against “tough” or “weak” teams based on the level of difficulty that one list of names will have in generating more arbitrary points than a competing list of names. We become fiercely competitive. We talk smack with each other precisely in the way that Chad Johnson and Champ Bailey might exchange words on the field. We are simultaneously imitative of and radically divorced from the phenomenon of football as it is actually played.

Since many of us are far more concerned with how our imaginary teams do than we are with the actual performance of the Patriots or Cowboys, Jean Baudrillard might agree that fantasy football is an excellent example of the displacement of the real by the hyperreal. We don’t use fantasy football as a substitute for football; we don’t judge it as inferior to the real thing insofar as it fails to emulate the real thing. We realize that fantasy football is a simulacrum of the NFL and that its existence is predicated on the existence of the NFL, but the simulacrum is so much more important to many of us than the real thing from which it is derived that the reality of the “real thing” is inconsequential.

If I were writing for my own website, this is the point in the column where I would ask readers to respond with their view of whether they think fantasy sports really are the best examples of postmodern sports. But that’s not the kind of question that is likely to go over well with most readers, so I won’t make that the question of the week. (Still, I’ll be happy to hear from readers who have thoughts on the subject.)

Last Week’s Question

Okay, in retrospect, it wasn’t all that bright of me to take a question that a reader directed specifically to me and turn it into a question for the column. My question about the size of various LMS pools was wrongheaded on all sorts of levels. The primary deficiency was probably that I was asking for the number of players involved in a pool, and that is exactly the answer I got from various readers. Some of your notes included nothing in the body of your emails—since the subject line reported the number of LMS participants in your pools. Of course, there’s no way for me to confirm any of those numbers. And since people were just firing off their emails very quickly, it could be the case that someone who meant to write “250” accidentally wrote “2500.”

Gambling laws (and the fact that I really don’t understand any of them) also complicated responses from some people, who think that the pools they are involved in are illegal and warned me that I could get into trouble for admitting on the Internet that I participate in such pools. I’m no lawyer, so I won’t debate the legality of LMS pools with people. If any prosecutors do come after me for anything I’ve written here, I’ll go through a 2-step process of 1) being thoroughly surprised; and 2) letting you know how things work out.

However, since my lack of legal knowledge prevents me from confirming or refuting what people wrote to me concerning LMS pools, I won’t bother engaging that correspondence. And since the numbers that people sent me concerning their pools are unreliable, I’m going to let last week’s question vanish into the cyber-ether.

My thanks to those who wrote in. Your responses were all fine; my question was to blame.

This Week’s Question

I have a complaint from Ron, who sounds like he may be upset because he has no real chance at picking up Dwayne Bowe on waivers this week:
My new league has this stupid rule that gives preference on waiver wire picks to teams with the worst records. I’m off to a 4-0 start, and I’m the only undefeated team in the league. My reward for this great start is that I never get anybody I want on waivers. All the losers get to pick ahead of me, and I get stuck with a few scrubs. In my old league, we always started the season with $1000 waiver dollars, and we had to submit bids on players we wanted to pick up through waivers. If you really wanted a player, you could get him no matter what your record was as long as you were willing to pay. I told the people in my new league about this rule from my old [league, but they] say they like things the way they are.

My question for you is: How insane do you have to be to like this stupid rule? Why do we constantly coddle everybody in FF? If you finish last, you get to pick first. If you lose your games, you get first dibs on the waiver wire. Whaa, whaa, whaa, etc. etc. We should reward people for being right about things, but instead we are constantly hamstringing them in the name of fairness. Seriously, is there any justification for this “coddle the inept” approach?

I’ll let readers weigh in on the question before sharing my own thoughts, but I’ll say at this point that I have been in many leagues that use precisely the approach Ron hates regarding the waiver wire. Ron may not like it, but it’s hardly unusual.

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matthew)

Trap Game: Chicago at Green Bay:
The monsters of the midway have started horribly, but a win here against their divisional foe will go a long way to clawing their way back into the playoff picture. If the Bears let this game get away from them, the chances of Da Bears making the playoffs go from slim to none—while the Packers can almost put themselves on cruise control. Because it is a divisional game anything can and will happen—just like last week with the Ravens. Wait for a non-divisional game to use the Pack in your Survival Pool.

#3: Houston over Miami (4-0):
The last time a Houston team was favored to beat a Dolphins team by more than 3 points was when Warren Moon wore a Houston Oilers uniform and he was slinging the ball to Ernest Givens and company. Matt Schaub is no Warren Moon, but he doesn’t have to be. He does need Ahman Green as proven by Ron Dayne’s inability to score on a one-yard dive.

#2: Tennessee over Atlanta (2-2):
My number two picks have not been great this season, so when I think about taking the Titans over the Falcons I kind of wince. The Falcons exposed the Houston Texan defense for what it was, and they should be able to do the same here with the Titans. However, Lendale White and company should have a pretty good day against a defense that is ranked 23rd against the run and 21st overall.

#1: New England over Cleveland (4-0):
How good are the Pats? Take away Camera Gate and they still can beat you. This week the Browns will finally meet a team that can handle Derek Andersen and the controlled passing game. The Patriots’ game planning will be sound, let alone able to adjust on the fly, to what the Browns bring to this game. And no matter who runs the ball for New England, Tom Brady and company will be able to light up the board against a defense that is ranked 31st in the league in both passing and rushing defense.

For responses to this week's fantasy question or to share your LMS picks, please email me no later than 10 a.m. EST on Wednesdays during the football season.

Readers who want to have their fantasy questions answered live, on the air, by Mike Davis are invited to tune into FFEXradio on Friday afternoons at 5:00 p.m. EST. Archived programs are also available.