I’ve never been into sports. Growing up, my interests were of the weirder variety: I spent my days reading Left Behind books and blowing things up and being alone (with God), preparing for my future of introversion.
But one time, at a hockey game, my super athletic cousin approached me with his super athletic friend and asked me if all I liked to do was sit in my bedroom and read books all day. I replied with rapid breathing and desperate denial. Learning from this catastrophe, along with other similar experiences, I turned to my bedroom. I appraised my bare walls, my small library of books and decided to make some adjustments. I wanted people to walk in and know, without a shadow of doubt, that this was, in fact, a boys room.
I pinned up posters of Kevin Garnett, Wally Szczerbiak and Terrell Brandon on my walls and I lined my shelves with autographed baseballs, framed baseball cards, a rare trophy. And I think all the make up messed with my mind a bit, because soon after I started losing myself in character. I read the sports page, for fun, and started following the local franchises. The year the timberwolves lost in the playoffs to the Dallas Mavericks, I let out an involuntarily wail of “IT’S NOT FAIR,” and proceeded to crumple up into a ball of the couch, my face beneath my Garnett jersey, my parents watching on, exchanging silent looks of worry.
I played football from 6th to 11th grade. And though I didn’t really ever have a love for the game, I soon realized how irrelevant that was. Amongst my teammates, I found family. I found loyalty and respect and far less Macho culture than I expected. When the captains walked onto the field for the coin toss, they held hands. When the game was over, players from both teams gathered on the fifty-yard line, our arms slung around each other, and we gave thanks to God, prayed for each other, and blessed the night. Nothing ever felt so holy.
So, sports hold a special place in my heart, even if they’re not always on my radar.
This year, though, my general disinterest in sports has given way to unfettered devotion. In the Summer of 2015, I met with my brothers and their friends and accidentally joined their fantasy football league. All of them have lived in the world of sports all of their lives. One has played professional hockey overseas. A couple of them are high school coaches. Their loyalty to the game is bond deep. Their understanding of it, superior. So I thought of course! why not? Here- here’s fifty bucks.
Now every Sunday since the start of the season I am a different person. I end up making deals with myself, promising to only watch for one hour and then move on to homework. Every single Sunday, I fail. I sit in front of the TV in my morning sweats until well after three and I deplete my iPhone battery life easily in an hour from refreshing, refreshing, refreshing of my yahoo fantasy app. One of my running backs fumbles the ball and I shout profanity language. One of my receivers snags in an uncatchable pass in the end zone and I get misty-eyed. I hold up one hand in the air like I’m waiting for a high-five or having a moment in a hymn; the experience is similar.
There’s something just so fun about it, even for me, a relative outsider to this world. It’s a fantasy, so you get to lose yourself a little bit. You get to look at your roster like it’s a list of your best friends. Like you’re the leader they will follow to the end. And you fall in a little deeper and start feeling a real, visceral attachment to them. Every single week someone is trying to trick me into trading away Rob Gronkowski, and in response to my rejection, they always cry why. why. I’m giving you so much more than he’s worth. And my heart whispers: he is priceless to me. He is irreplaceable. He is the heart of this team.
There is plenty of fun psychology happening when one is immersed in fantasy football, not the least of which is illusions of grandeur. Pleasure centers are being activated, competitive feelings are given a healthy channel, a solidarity, however imagined, is being felt. Apart from the gambling issue, it’s a healthy activity ripe with benefits. And for my mind, the most meaningful impact has been the most real one: social connection.
In Fantasy Football, I found a doorway to a world where so many people I know and love live. On Monday night after class, my dad and I stay up late watching games, comparing our teams stats, talking about that current standings of our team, and it’s like we’ve added another language, exclusive to only those involved in The League. On my phone, we have chain text going where I am constantly fake fighting over trade details, demanding fairness, talking trash, and laughing my head off. I consult my brothers about who I should start and who I should sit, if a deal is mutually beneficial or if I’m being bamboozled.
And it’s like this single joy is threading through all of us. Like we’re practicing community. As different and disconnected as we may be, this common language restrings us together into something more and reminds us of something deeper: life is always better together.