It doesn't seem like it now, but fantasy football wasn't always popular. At first it seemed to me to be a fad created for and played by only nerds and geeks. Now I would be hard pressed to find a grown man around my age who likes football that hasn't played fantasy football at least once.
I have played quite a bit of fantasy football since I retired from the NFL; I even won a league championship once. I had a ball, and it gave me a totally different perspective on the game. I knew a lot about how to play the game on the field, but learning which players to start and which players to sit week to week was totally foreign to me.
I love a challenge, however, so I committed myself to learning what I needed to learn so I could at least be competitive in my leagues.
As much fun as I've had playing fantasy football, I still can't imagine participating if I was still in the NFL, so it's odd to read about current players who do so, let alone those who own themselves. There just would've been too many conflicts of interest for me to have felt comfortable doing so.
Let's start with something obvious, like the competitiveness of most professional athletes.
As motivated as I was to try to win my league as a former player, I probably would have been even more intense if I was still playing the game. I have a hard time believing that other active players wouldn't take it seriously as well. As with everything else in our lives, we are conditioned to hate to lose at least as much as we love to win.
This is the underpinning of all the other problems that might come into play with active players participating in fantasy football.
You always have to have a draft in fantasy football, right? Well, if you're an active player, you can't draft just your own teammates. And at some point you are likely going to have to draft players on teams that you will have to face that season. What are you going to do when that game rolls around? Not play those players in your fantasy league, even if they give you the best chance to win that week?
Of course, this isn't some major moral dilemma, but for people who hate to lose at anything, why even set yourself up for that?
Then there is the distraction aspect.
If you have the time to participate seriously in a fantasy football league, how much time are you really putting into preparing for the game that week? It becomes more than a passing hobby; fantasy football can take up quite a bit of time. Monitoring injury reports, studying the history of the matchups and looking for trades and free-agent pickups are all a normal part of owning a team in fantasy football.
A lot of fantasy football activity happens on the day of the game. This is especially true when some injured players are ruled active or inactive just hours before their game. At a time when everyone is trying to get mentally prepared to go and play their best for 60 minutes to try to get a win, what happens if your teammates notice you trying to set your fantasy football lineups?
It sounds funny now, but I can see how fantasy football could be just as addictive as gambling. Once that addiction takes hold, some guys are prone to doing stupid things. Why even open yourself up to that criticism?
Look, I have had plenty of fun playing fantasy football, but as a retired player, I don't have a game every week to put my complete focus into anymore. Back when I was blessed with that opportunity, during the season I didn't do much else. You still have to live your life, but aside from getting out every now and then, football has to be your job and your hobby if you hope to be the best that you can be, in my opinion.
I know that having active players play fantasy football sounds cool in theory, but in practice it seems very problematic to me. If some players could participate without getting caught up in trying to win, maybe there wouldn't be any problems. That doesn't square with how inherently competitive most NFL players are from my experience, however.
I started playing fantasy just for fun, but eventually I had a burning need to win every week. I can't imagine it would be much different for active players, and that's why they should just say no.