This isn’t fantasy

News of Ty Doohen’s death was met with very disappointing reactions from fantasy football fans.

by Matthew Hoy

The horrifying death of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson’s son Ty Doohen caught fire on social media last week, capturing the collective consciousness of Minnesota sports fans.

Apart from the obvious tragedy of the situation, many fantasy football fans — myself included — feared that this situation would bring personal tragedy on the imaginary gridiron.

Earlier in the week I traded a huge bounty of players to get Peterson on my fantasy team. My first reaction after the initial sympathy was to wonder whether Peterson would play this week against the Carolina Panthers. In my mind I lamented how unlucky I was that the name and numbers I had just traded for might not produce for me.

The reality of the situation set in a few moments later: By no stretch of the imagination could my situation, especially in comparison to Peterson’s, be considered unlucky. Sadly, I was hardly the only person who reacted that way.

The fantasy implications of this incredible tragedy were the biggest topic of discussion with my coworkers all weekend.

I saw ESPN’s ticker constantly supplying information on Peterson’s game-time status. My social media was ablaze with similar concerns.

It’s hard not to react this way. The social capital that can be lost from a bad week of fantasy football is immense. Those of us who play can get swept up in the game, forsaking school, work and personal commitments in favor of reading up on quality flex plays for a
given week.

Within this context, it makes sense that personal tragedy would be a part of this equation. In a broader sense, it doesn’t make any at all.

A few weeks ago, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was injured on a non-contact play. Some fantasy players who spent a first-round pick on him responded by telling him he ought to die.

In 2011, Houston Texans running back Arian Foster aggravated a hamstring injury during the preseason. Foster sent a Twitter message for anyone who was worried about their fantasy team over his personal health: “u ppl are sick.”

In something of a similar phenomenon, fans at games have been booing players who get hurt on the off chance that they are faking the injuries. It’s disgraceful.

These are real people who work incredibly hard to achieve a dream few even get a chance at. They do it at great risk of physical injury that can not only interfere with their professional goals, but can ruin their lives. They do not belong to us, and their lives are more important than our fantasy teams.

These events are testaments to the way that fantasy football can dehumanize the players we claim to love. They cease to be real people with real aspirations. Players become names and numbers for us to rearrange on a screen.

It’s an unfortunate effect of a largely positive game, and there doesn’t seem to be any real way to eliminate it within the system. So it falls on those of us who play to change the culture associated with it.

The lives of these people are vastly more important than our fantasy teams. Regardless of how this tragedy affects your score this week, Peterson lost a son. So the next time you find yourself, a coworker or a friend complaining about your fantasy misfortunes because someone you drafted got hurt or is struggling, try to remember that this injury, bad week or personal tragedy is a lot harder on them than it is on you.