A Perpetual Addiction: America's Obsession With Fantasy Sports

B. D.Contributor IJune 27, 2010

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 01:  Hall of Fame baseball player Rickey Henderson's retired jersey is unveiled during a ceremony to retire his number 24 by the Oakland Athletics before the start of the game against the Toronto Blue Jays August 1, 2009 at the McAfee Coliseum in Oakland, California. Henderson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame July 26.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Whether you consider yourself a casual sports fan, weekend warrior, diehard, or you seriously think your blood is the color of your favorite team, odds are, you know what fantasy sports are all about.  Could fantasy sports be the new American pastime?  It is doubtful, but nonetheless, the industry has been surging over the past few years.  Not to mention, it gives participants a chance to do something fun and competitive.  


Yes, the photo in this article is Rickey Henderson's number being retired on August 1, 2009.  But what's the significance of this picture regarding fantasy sports?  It is safe to say Henderson is without question one of the most enthusiastic, colorful, controversial, and greatest players in MLB history.  Steve Gardner of USA Today sparks an interesting debate in his blog, "Henderson:  The Greatest Fantasy Player Ever?"

We can sit here and debate this all day long, but the numbers don't lie.  In baseball, statistical figures and trends are a great instrument for determining a player's overall value, and in this case "greatness."  


As is the case with virtually everything in the world today, the first sport to really test the waters of fantasyland is uncertain.  In August 2006, Jon Saraceno's article in USA Today shed light on one of, if not the, oldest fantasy leagues:  the Greater Oakland Pigskin Prognosticators League (GOPPL).

The GOPPL began in the early 1960s and is still in operation today.  One particular passage in Saraceno's article pretty much sums up our obsessive--often compulsory--behavior when it comes to fantasy sports:

"It was euphoria the first night of our draft," said former sports bar owner Andrew Mousalimas, 81, an original GOPPPL member who will draft for the 43rd and last time. "We knew we had something nice, but we had no idea. ... We'd root for opposing players at Raiders games, and nobody in the stands could figure out why."


We root for opposing players, sometimes bitter rivals, and only those who play the (fantasy) games themselves can fathom this phenomenon.  



David Block's Baseball Before We Knew It:  A Search for the Roots of the Game, is a fantastic book.  His book provides a thorough examination of the sport, and for history buffs out there with a passion for baseball, this is a must-read.  

The modern game is merely a derivative of past bat-and-ball games, and to this day, there is still much debate about the origin(s) of the "American" pastime. Some scholars of the game have traced the origin of baseball back to early fourteenth-century France (1344).  Monks and nuns were seen playing a game akin to what we consider softball.  Put another digit on the scoreboard for the monks and nuns, for they are truly some of the most innovative people in the world.  

I always thought they were only worldly-renowned for brewing great beer.  

My apologies for the brief tangent.



Anyway, the point of this article--which, by the way, is my first--is to provide some fun facts and/or useless trivia to fantasy gamers out there.  Knowing a game's origin and history definitely makes you more appreciative of it.  After all, without the actual games, fantasy sports cease to exist.

Nevertheless, fantasy gaming has withstood the tests of time.  What started out as perhaps a fad has now become somewhat of a cultural norm in America.  It is a sociological phenomenon that continues to expand its horizon.  Over 20% of adult males in America have participated in fantasy leagues at some point in their lives, and fantasy gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry.  Even TV shows and politics have entered the realm of fantasy gaming.  What next?  A Top Chef Fantasy League?  Have we created a monster?

For those familiar with the sociology of sport, you can probably draw your own conclusions as to how much of an impact fantasy gaming has on our society.  It's an interesting topic to explore, and I plan to do so in the future.



Now that I'm done rambling with this article, it is time to wrap this thing up.  I have another great book recommendation for those interested.  I strongly encourage everyone to pick up Sam Walker's Fantasyland: A Sportswriter's Obsessive Bid to Win the World's Most Ruthless Fantasy Baseball League.  It's an extremely humorous book, and it reveals just how competitive--ahem, ruthless--things can get.  

As mentioned in the introduction, fantasy sports leagues are a fun way to stay competitive for those of us whom never had or no longer have the ability to play.  I hope it never reaches the point where conflict within leagues reach national media attention for the wrong reasons (e.g., like the 12-year old little leaguer, whose father is not only the coach of the team, but he's also the one throwing fists with the umpire at the public ballpark).

Ok, I'm done.  I've got to start recruiting members for my fantasy college football league today.  Then I'll start working on some articles providing tips to those whom may be playing in a fantasy college football league as well this season.  


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