Have NFL players had enough of fantasy football?

With the season just a week away, NFL players (and even coaches) are beginning to express their view that fantasy football is changing the game. And not necessarily in a good way.

The Web breeds fantasy.

It lets us become different people. It lets us impress those we never thought we'd ever have a chance of impressing. And it lets us believe that we are just as wily, difficult, and very slightly obnoxious as the most successful people in the world. The New England Patriots' coach Bill Belichick, for example.

Yet now that fantasy football has become more prevalent in human minds than, say, learning a foreign language (some say 25 million people will have teams this season), a couple of NFL players have come out and expressed some heartfelt--and not entirely positive--feelings on the subject.

The most recent and most vocal was Houston Texans' fine running back, Arian Foster. Foster is cursed with an active mind. He is also cursed with being someone many fantasy players want to put in their little teams. So when he recently injured his hamstring he was just very slightly appalled that there might be people who cared more about their fantasy teams than either his Texans or even his health.

Naturally, he turned his feelings to Twitter and offered: "4 those sincerely concerned, I'm doing ok & plan 2 B back by opening day. 4 those worried abt your fantasy team, u ppl are sick."

Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Though you might think these words are the mere vapor of vexation, some might feel that they carry the lugubriousness of truth. There is something quite perverse about people cheering you for your mathematical stats, rather than for your jukes, your blocking, your scoring performance, or even your team.

Foster tried to temper his words in a later statement, again on Twitter. "I know opinions are usually cement. But, I love all my fans. My quarrel is with people who value a digital game over a humans health. #love," he wrote.

However, when you look at some of the things supposed fans write to him, you'd surely be forgiven for imagining that these people deserve a period of real-life community service. For example, one fan with the handle @meyerbud tweeted to Foster: "im on the fence about you in fantasy. Convince me please."

Perhaps, if you were Foster, you would have been on the fence between using twelve expletives or fourteen. In fact, the running back mustered a merely polite: "Ummm thats just weird."

And yet he isn't alone in thinking that perhaps the focus of the fans has moved away from the traditional support of one cause, one team, come what may.

Superbowl-winning quarterback Kurt Warner, for example, told Sports Illustrated that fantasy football had made a small contribution to his leaving the NFL.

"You just get tired of having a good game, and your team winning, and someone coming up to you and saying, 'Nice win. How come you only threw for two touchdowns?' It gets old," he said.

Many fantasy football freaks are not true nerds, but true halfwits. They will tweet those in their team and demand more production. They will even harangue coaches at dinner.

Kansas City Chiefs Coach Todd Haley told Sports Illustrated that fantasists would come up to him in restaurants and demand he use his running back Jamaal Charles more. This was after a win.

"The way fans looked at what we did on offense was so fantasy football driven," he said.

Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

The Web warps the mind in many ways. It makes us believe we have far more friends than we truly do. But the idea that our own fantasy teams are somehow more important than our hometown teams--even a team as self-aggrandizing as the Dallas Cowboys--is very slightly sad.

I confess I once succumbed to this sadness, with fantasy NBA. I went to a Golden State Warriors game (yes, my Golden State Warriors) and found myself suddenly leaping in the air when my center got his tenth rebound. The only problem was that my center played for the Los Angeles Clippers. He was merely on my fantasy team.

I sought help soon after that experience (thank you, Honig winery Cabernet Sauvignon) and managed to wean myself away from a world in which little was real and in which your fundamental principles were being traded away on a lemonade stand of obsessive online calculations.

NFL players know that the existence of fantasy leagues brings more casual fans into their orbit and keeps them there for the whole season. Clearly, though, there is a schism being created between those who truly love the game and those for whom the NFL is merely another FarmVille.

Sometimes, though, fantasy football can bring all of your true feelings into one place. For example, it gives even more people reason to be upset with, say, the San Francisco 49ers' Alex Smith, should he manage another ridiculously virtual season.

 

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