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Why Football in 2020 Is Not A Fantasy

By Mike Davis | 6/17/21 |

Hey Mike (K.),

Because Iím not sure how best to say this, Iím writing this June Q&A installment as a letter to you, the founder & editor of FFToday who gifted me with a column that it has been my pleasure to maintain since 1999. Iím grateful to you for the opportunity, grateful to Matthew Schiff for providing so many insightful Survivor Pool picks over the years, & grateful most of all to the readers who took time out of their schedules to share details about their leagues (from outrageous sidebets to intricate scoring systems and everything in between). Of all the freelance assignments Iíve ever taken, none has brought me as much joy & never-ending surprise as hearing from readers in response to the questions posed in this space over more than two decades.

Sadly, however, that joy was a mere shadow of its former self last year. The COVID nonsense was a droning buzzkill for the entire season. Every Sunday, I felt a sense of duty to watch the contests (if only because I write a weekly column about fantasy football), but I could never make it through an afternoon of games. Different things sent me over the edge of my patience in different weeks. Sometimes it would be an Uber ad that made me turn off the TV for the day. Sometimes it was Sean Payton wearing a mask even though everyone knew he had already recovered from COVID. I donít remember each individual straw that broke the back of my patience for the NFL in those weeks, but the whole season was unwatchable and creepy. It was creepy when the stands were empty, creepier still when the cardboard cutouts appeared, and creepiest of all when live human beings showed up wearing masks while outdoors (because COVID policies in the NFL have always been about making imaginary people feel safer, not making real people be any safer).

When I talk to my friends about how sickening the COVID drama has made watching the NFL for me, they all object, ďWell you didnít seem too upset by the Colin Kaepernick stuff,Ē which could mean (depending on which period in NFL history theyíre referring to) that the NFL was too dismissive or too indulgent of Kapernick-inspired kneeling. But these friends simply do not understand fantasy football. As any true enthusiast knows, itís hard to notice whoís doing what during the national anthem if youíre finalizing your lineups, which, duh, is exactly what any serious fantasy manager should be doing any time the national anthem is playing during any professional football game. Itís axiomatic.

But seriously, in terms of gamewatching experience, there is no comparison between COVID coverage & kneeling. Maybe the cameras will focus on kneeling during the anthem or maybe they wonít, but thereís zero chance of cutting to an Uber commercial about how the players in Miami have to kneel to protect the players in Seattle. By contrast, there was no escaping COVID chatter in the NFL last year--from the moment at season kickoff when players took their masks off to pant & sweat on each other for three hours before putting them back on all the way to Super Spreader Bowl LV, when Tom Brady single-handedly forced millions of grandmas all over the world to die in isolation for their own protection because he wasnít as eager to get his mask back on after the game as Patrick Mahomes. The nonsense was unrelenting.

When we got a break from chatter about players who hadnít tested positive but had been tracked & traced to the same meeting rooms as players who had tested positive, it was only to learn why the Steelers had to play on a Tuesday or to fret about whether the latest ďoutbreakĒ was going to postpone the playoffs by an entire week. We could never allow ourselves to forget that at any moment, cases could suddenly flare up all over the league and result in a suspended season. Sorry NFL, but I just donít have 17 more weeks of pearl clutching left in me.

I mentioned last straws earlier to make you understand how Iím feeling right now, which is exactly how it felt each Sunday last season when I snapped, ďThatís enough COVID nonsense for this week. Iíll try again next SundayĒ before turning off the TV. My last straw today is an article that popped up when I started browsing the latest news about the NFL; it describes the preferential treatment that vaccinated players will receive over unvaccinated players.

The NFL argues that it wonít coerce anyone to get vaccinated, but it is deliberately making things more onerous for unvaxxed players (who must still test daily for COVID) than for vaxxed players (who only need to be tested once per week). There are even odder restrictions in place for unvaxxed coaches, who apparently wonít be allowed into certain team facilities in person (which could definitely make coaching a challenge).

But these bizarre restrictions werenít the last straw. I was still bearing up under the weight of all this COVID silliness until I reached this response from Bruce Arians when he was asked whether he had brought in any medical specialists to talk to the reigning champions about vaccination: ďIím the specialist. If you want to go back to normal, get vaccinated. Ö Itís still a personal choice, but I donít see a reason not to be vaccinated.Ē Thatís an astonishing assertion. The same Bruce Arians who is smart enough to beat Andy Reid in the Super Bowl apparently cannot fathom why any NFL player would choose not to be vaccinated.

Let me take a stab at it for ya, Coach. Most players in the NFL are in their 20s. Perhaps even more importantly, theyíre healthy--freakishly healthy. One of the weird things that even Yogi Berra could observe simply by watching is that you donít encounter a lot of morbidly obese professional athletes. According to CDC data, even if you include those with underlying comorbidities, people in their 20s face a trivial risk from COVID. If you focus on those without comorbidities (like most NFL athletes), the risk from COVID shrinks practically to zero.

Now letís think about the risk of side effects from the COVID vaccines in 4 years. Why 4 years? Because thatís when players typically sign their second contract (for the only big payday in most NFL careers); 4 years is also the minimum duration of long-term testing we have done on vaccines in the past (though not this time). Is it possible that within 4 years of vaccination, 1% of COVID vaccine recipients will develop arthritis in their thumbs or swelling in their heels or reduced range of motion in their hips or some other such symptom that would be a minor inconvenience for an ordinary person but a career-ending condition for an elite athlete? Please donít misconstrue me. Iím not suggesting that thereís any reason to expect any of those particular side effects. I have no idea what side effects one could expect to see in 1% of COVID vax recipients 4 years from now, but my point is that no one else has any idea either. Itís not possible to know what we havenít tested, so the only reasonable way to characterize the long-term risk of taking the vaccine is ďunknown.Ē

Itís easy to understand why a rookie might be reluctant to take a vax that he sees as offering virtually no upside along with a potential downside that is completely unknown (and conceivably career ending). Arians has a profound lack of imagination if he canít see why some of his players would reject a vaccine that has almost no statistical chance of improving their own health outcomes. When a coach says, ďIf you want to get back to normal, get vaccinated,Ē to players who can miss a game check because of a positive COVID test that they wouldnít have had to take if they had been vaccinated, I donít have to call that coercion to see it as a reprehensible attempt to influence a decision that adult U.S. citizens should be permitted to make in privacy and according to their own best judgment.

I realized as I read that line from Arians that the 2021 NFL season is probably going to be even less watchable than the 2020 season. There may be full stadiums, but there will almost certainly be new and improved arbitrary restrictions imposed on players and fans along with insane virtue signaling from coaching staffs and corporate sponsors. I enjoy writing my Q&A column so much that I was admittedly tempted to fake my way through another season in the hope that the NFL of old will return in 2022. Mike, when you emailed me about the dates of submission for my articles in 2021, I said that everything looked good because I genuinely thought at the time that I could push through all the BS. But upon further reflection, I canít. As with the pearl clutching, I just donít have it in me.

Last year, FFToday was brave enough to publish a piece of mine that was openly critical of COVID hysteria in the NFL. There was a lot of pushback on that piece (both in the comments section and on twitter) from people who are more concerned about computer-generated models than real-world data. So Mike, if you need to cut out any part of this explanation to forestall criticism that wonít be any fun for the website to contend with, Iíll understand.

But I thought you and the rest of the staff deserved to know how I reached this conclusion and why, after more than 20 years of Q&A, Iíve decided to ignore the NFL for 2021 at a minimum (though I suspect Iím done with it entirely). I hope that my colleagues here at FFToday and my readers over the years who are still enjoying fantasy & the NFL will continue to have fun with the hobby for their own sake (and for mine). But as for me, Iíve moved on from COVID. And since the NFL refuses to move on, I guess Iíll have to move on from the NFL.

Peace out,
Mike Davis (not the running back)

Mike Davis has been writing about fantasy football since 1999--and playing video games even longer than that. His latest novel (concerning a gamer who gets trapped inside Nethack after eating too many shrooms) can be found here.

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