I’m Putting the `Fantasy’ Back in Fantasy Football

I’m going to say something that sounds crazy, and you are going to say, “you’re a liar!”

Then I’m going to say, “no really, it’s true!”

Then you’re going to say, “how are you having a conversation with me through your article?”

And I’m going to say, “magic.”

Okay, here it goes, that thing that’s going to sound crazy…

I miss 2020!

No, really: It’s true.

I’m having a really bad year. There have been some highs, which I have clung to like Donte Moncrief and  Levi Wallace clung to the ball in this bizarrely passionate embrace from 2018. In fact, everything might turn out pretty okay by 2022. But this has been the Spring and Summer of stress.

Ask most people what they want most out of their fantasy football season and the majority will say, “I want to win.” I like winning, too, but this season what I need most out of my fantasy season is escapism. I need to lose myself in the stats every Sunday.

It’s a hobby, and hobbies should be fun. Let’s say your hobby is building ships in a bottle. Nobody loses their office “ship in a bottle” league and says “my whole season was for nothing! Why did I even build all these ships in all these bottles?” Yet fantasy football seems designed to make us do exactly that.

And the stark truth is this: We all can’t win. The other 13 members of my Big Money League have learned that lesson each of the past 2 years. But we all can use this hobby to escape our troubles every weekend. That’s what I want out of my 2021 fantasy season. And because my own particular neuroses can’t allow escapism without a detailed and thorough plan, that’s just what I did.

A few years ago I shared key moments from my late father’s life and showed how those moments could provide solutions for problems in fantasy football. Today, I’m going to do almost the exact opposite: I’m going to show how I’m using fantasy football to provide solutions for problems in my real life.

My Keys to Enjoying the 2021 Fantasy Football Season
Key 1: I will roster Mark Andrews in as many leagues as possible

In early April, in-person learning resumed in my kids’ school district. Soon after, my son came down with an illness. I assumed it was just from entering the giant germapalooza that is a primary school classroom after 12 months of not developing antibodies.

It wasn’t.

The next day my son became unresponsive. His eyes rolled back into his head. The ambulance and fire engines came and took him to the emergency room. I drove to intensive care, where doctors were running around the room next to my unconscious son yelling scary doctor-ey things like, “I need 100ccs of stat!” Standing there, terrified and unable to do anything to help my son, I would’ve gladly given my life if it meant he could resume enjoying his.

It turns out, this is a tragically common way for parents to find out their child has type 1 diabetes. After four days in the hospital, he made a complete recovery. No Faustian bargain was required of me.

He has taken to his diagnosis quite well. According to his therapist, he is one of the most-well adjusted diabetic children she has ever met. His main complaint was being unconscious so he couldn’t enjoy his ride in the ambulance.

Mark Andrews is in the top tier of fantasy football tight ends. He plays at a skill level among the best in the world. Also, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 9 years old.  Andrews is affordable at auction, too, which is the only redraft format I participate in. That means I can easily get him in most of my redraft leagues. Yes, even if people in those leagues have read this article and know they can bid me up on Mark Andrews. I don’t care, I’ll work it into the budget somehow.

What I do care about is cheering for Mark Andrews every week to show my son that he doesn’t have to be limited by his diagnosis. That he can still do anything he puts his mind (and body) toward.

And if this also leads my son to take an interest in fantasy football, then that’s 10% of my auction budget well spent.

You may be saying “I don’t have a son who went to the hospital with diabetes in 2021. So how does this help me?” In fact, I hope you’re all saying that, for goodness sakes! That experience will forever be scarred in my brain! The point of this article is not to give you specific advice and tips on fantasy football. That’s the point of all my other articles (well, almost), so let me have this one! My goal is to inspire you to look for ways to make fantasy football enrich your everyday lives.

Maybe this next key will speak to you more:

Key 2: I won’t draft anyone with pending litigation

I don’t care if they are later exonerated. I don’t care if the charges against them seem sure to be dropped and are making them a steal in drafts. Thinking about how pending criminal rulings should factor into a player’s valuation is directly inserting real-life nastiness into my joyful hobby. That’s the opposite of what we’re doing, here.

My wife is a saint who does independent volunteer work helping guide women through the process of granting restraining orders. I’m head of the PTA of the local elementary school, so I talk to little kids a lot. Between the above two things, I’ve heard a lot of horrifying domestic violence incidents over the past 12 months.

When I sit down at the draft table or think about my auction valuations, I need to be transported. I need a few minutes of relief from the suffering of real-life people. I need to not have to debate the likelihood of domestic violence charges affecting my team. So I don’t care if Deshaun Watson is a steal: You can have him. Jeff Krisko puts this far more eloquently than I ever could in his Watson take from April.

I’m not even a fan of players with pending DUI or gun charges. Again, this falls under the category of “real-life heaviness I’m taking a break from thinking about.” So no Josh Jacobs or Melvin Gordon, where accusations of drunk driving may or may not have them hovering above the commissioner’s exempt list. And I’ve never heard of wide receiver Terry Tamorrion but I’m not drafting him even if I did.

Also, just to get this out of the way: I won’t draft anyone who is outspoken about not getting vaccinated. So much of my life involves worrying and planning around the plague, I don’t need that stress in my fantasy life, too.

Key 3: I won’t take the advice of “experts” over the advice of people I trust

Even people who work in the fantasy football industry, people like me, are susceptible to it: Placing too much value on someone’s advice because the company they work for is huge. There’s just no real correlation: The advice you get from someone with a million followers is likely to be less accurate than the advice you get from a friend you’ve talked fantasy with for years.

That’s not because the big-name pundits aren’t worthy of respect: They are (please notice me, big -name pundits). But working for a huge fantasy media outlet can stretch you thin. It can force you to rely on surface-level statistics rather than on hours of tape-watching. It can reward you for having really polarizing takes that are not likely to pan out.

In late May, my now-diabetic son caught pneumonia. He took antibiotics for a few weeks and seemed fine. Until one morning, he was a bit weak, complained of pain in his side, and had high blood sugar (testing his blood sugar constantly gives me a fun new thing to worry myself sick about)! Even though the pain went away with some antacid, and his strength came back with some breakfast, I wasn’t sure.

So we checked into urgent care. After examining him thoroughly an expert doctor concluded that he was doing okay, his body was just adjusting to new diabetes and pneumonia. I took him home, where he bounded off happily to play.

But I wasn’t sure. When you’re a parent you just get a weird feeling that your kid isn’t right. Call it pattern recognition: They may seem fine to an outside observer, but I’ve seen their tendencies for years. So I can sometimes tell something’s off without being able to actually name it. I called his pediatrician. She is one of the most capable people I’ve ever met, even though she is a physician’s assistant and not an “expert” doctor. She got me in for the very next day.

We went to the exam room. She walked in the door, stopped, and looked at my son for about 15 seconds. Then she said, “do you know where the children’s hospital emergency room is?” I, of course, knew very well where it was. She replied, “good. Because that’s where you’re going.”

She would later tell me that she knew something was wrong when my son didn’t immediately ask her 5 excited-but-annoying questions as soon as she walked in the door. She listened and noticed shallow breathing. Those two signs alone were enough for her to declare something was really wrong. Before we left she decided to get an X-ray of his lungs. Looking at the X-ray, she called off our drive to the hospital and called an ambulance.

My son was conscious for this ambulance ride. He did not enjoy it.

It turns out he had a lung full of fluid. It took seven days in the hospital and a multi-month recovery, but again he healed in full. But only because I took the advice of someone I trusted over the advice of an expert.

So, if it worked for saving my son’s life, you can all bet I’m going to make it work for fantasy football. Sure, I like to consider the advice of experts: I’ll use FantasyPros excellent experts aggregate system when trying to ballpark my own rankings. But when it comes to actual game-time decisions, I only trust two things: The things I’ve seen in my tape-watching and the words of my closest experts. That happens to be the insightful folks in our Discord, feel free to hop on in and splash around in the deep pools of knowledge they fill.

Key 4: I will make sure to spend more time appreciating what I have than regretting what I’ve lost

The stress from my son’s hospitalizations triggered brain damage in my truly spectacular wife. Most parts of her remained the same, but her short-term memory has become poor at best and non-existent at worst. She can’t work, and can only do basic things around the house. She regularly tries to do my son’s diabetes treatment, then realizes she can’t. As a parent, there’s nothing more isolating and horrific than realizing you can’t be there when your child needs you.

We are, of course, terrified. Adding to the insanity: Apparently, brain disorders take a long time to figure out. Her own dad is a neurologist, yet it’s been over 10 weeks and we still don’t have a diagnosis.

All I can think about is how good I had it up until then: My family had weeks where we were all healthy, I have great friends that I can interact with online during a pandemic, and fantasy football season was just kicking off.

I really had it all. Yet I mainly focused on how miserable I was: My son had been hospitalized 11 days in the past 6 weeks, the pandemic’s resurgence meant I wouldn’t be doing any event planning (my favorite hobby) or in-person social interaction for even longer. I felt like I was in prison when I was really standing in a meadow staring at the walls put up by my own mind. I see that clearly, now.

Last season, I started 5-0 in my Big Money League. I then lost the next 5 in a row. I spent way, way more time agonizing over those five losses than I did feeling joy and relief over my perfect start. The true twist of it all was that I snuck into the playoffs and won the championship, so all those moments of unproductive worry were for nothing. I should’ve just taken my losses on the chin, resolved to do better, make the best moves I could make, then moved my focus to something more enjoyable.

The truth is: Sometimes random bad stuff happens in fantasy football as it does in life. The next time your team has a rocky stretch, I want you to be glad that it’s your fantasy season in jeopardy and not your whole real life.

Speaking of real life, there is some good news: Most signs are pointing to my wife having a brain condition that is reversible. If we get that diagnosis and my wife responds to treatment, I will have won back the fantasy real-life championship.

And I’m going to make sure I never take that for granted again.

Do you want more 2021 fantasy football discussion? Did you find this article weird… but in a good way? Then check out these links!


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