October 24, 2007

Where Has All the Loyalty Gone?

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Over the past couple of years there has been a growing fascination with fantasy sports. The increased popularity of the hobby has grown so much that ESPN dedicates segments of its shows to illustrate who will be the best fantasy player selections from game to game.
Sports Illustrated, Yahoo, AOL and CBS Sportsline are just among the thousands of sites that offer fantasy league play. What has fueled the increased support? The idea that “average sports fan,” — you know, the guy/girl who thinks that if he/she were in charge of the New York Knicks, they wouldn’t have given the one-dimensional Allan Houston a 6-year, $100.4 million contract (what a great deal that was) — has the chance to show off his or her talent of creating a team that can produce championships.
While, for many the existence of this league intensifies the sporting experience, I, on the other hand am against — almost protest — fantasy sports. Yep, I said it.
In my most humble opinion, the true essence, the backbone, the foundation of all sports fans is loyalty to a squad. Nothing is more telling then the Boston Red Sox fans. For decades, the Sox community rooted for its team despite its failings, feelings of a Babe Ruth curse and an inability to surpass the Yankees for baseball supremacy (which they never will, 26 World Championships people).
As much as I hate the Red Sox, it has true loyal fans and I can’t do anything but respect them. I respect those Jacksonville Jaguars fans that stayed at Alltel Stadium Monday night, although there was no way the Jags were going to comeback against the Indianapolis Colts (they lost 29-7).
Or better yet, I respect those die-hard Atlanta Hawks fans who still find the dedication to attend a game for a team that is a known cellar-dweller and has some of the worst attendance numbers in the NBA. That’s what being a true fan is about — dedication, love and an obsession for a team that would drive a spouse to jealousy. You know what I am talking about, the type of fan whose mood is altered by a win or loss from his or her favorite team.
Now, the problem with these fantasy leagues is that it has changed the way many fans operate. Before these leagues came about, you only cared about your team and your players. In fact, you almost wanted to see your competition do poorly. If you were a Knicks fan, you rooted for Michael Jordan to score under double digits against the Clippers. If you were a New York Rangers fan, you wanted Stéphane Richer and the New Jersey Devils to lose to the Bruins (Yeah, a little hockey reference for you).
In fact, if you’re a New England Patriots fan right now, you probably want Peyton Manning to suffer a season-ending injury — and subsequently end the Colts’ season — that is, of course, if Manning isn’t on your fantasy team. And that, my friends, is where the problem lies.
Too often have I seen my friends frantically search through box scores to see the performance of players they have no business rooting for. For example, my roommate, a Carolina Panthers fan, celebrates touchdowns by New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress because he is one of his players on his fantasy team.
You don’t understand how much that pisses me off. You know how much I would love to celebrate and poke fun at him for how much better Burress is than Panthers’ receiver Steve Smith? But I can’t because every time Burress “gets busy” — as I would like to term it — he celebrates as well.
I am almost scared to join a baseball fantasy league. My pinstriped heart would be crushed to see a Bronx Bomber fan have Josh Beckett in his starting fantasy rotation. Could you imagine a Red Sox fan being happy every time A-Rod hits a home run? The thought of it is troubling to my sporting experience.