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From the Rev: Fantasy

Apr 27, 2014

The growth of fantasy sports is changing the landscape for the professional sports fan – the game that is much loved (whether soccer, basketball, baseball, or something else) or followed can now have a different level of interaction and control for the fan. Choose players, select which ones play at a certain time, spend a certain allocation of money to develop a team, win prizes, win money – all of these possibilities are creating a new type of fan; a fanatical, fantastical fan.

I observed this recently whilst over at a friends house – he had a game on the TV with two teams that I knew he didn’t follow or have any loyalty with. When I inquired about it he said, “Yes, but so and so is on my fantasy squad.” As the day wore on, multiple devices were tuned to different match ups featuring his “fantasy” team – iPads, iPhones, TV, and laptop computer each showing a different competition. And, of course, the app that tracked all of the fantasy measures was pulled up on each of them to give predictions and show valuable statistics for future decisions that needed to be made. Needless to say, the time spent at my friends house wasn’t quality – I felt like I had been sucked into his fantasy world and it didn’t make for good company.

Now, as you read this, if you are in an age group of Generation X or higher, you might be thinking, “Fantasy sports, that’s ridiculous…” But a recent story highlighted just how much fantasy is changing the landscape, not just of the fan, but of the economy. For example, this USA Today story highlights the hopes and dreams of a growing number of the population to earn a wage at playing fantasy sports. It has long been thought that the money around fantasy sports was in the advertising audience that the games create as this CNN Money article in 2006 discusses, but people earning a wage? It doesn’t seem real.

Fantasy sports is costly, though – not just in the way that it can occupy the mind of a person like my friend I mention above. Through the money exchanged in events like the NCAA March Madness Tournament and in the amount of employer hours lost in countries like America, as this article from The Atlantic mentions, there is question whether people are really fans of anything anymore or whether they are involved in something more subtle and more insidious – gambling. Is fantasy sports a gambling gateway?

I currently play in an MLS Fantasy Soccer league with the other league chaplains.

I currently play in an MLS Fantasy Soccer league with other league chaplains.

I will admit that I have played and still play fantasy sport games (rarely for any money). I feel the tug myself – the temptation to put another game on the TV to “see how my guy is doing,” the temptation to get on one more website and read one more article or bit of advice, the lure of the free app that will let me make substitutions on the go – all of it could consume me and my time. And to combat some of these things I have put some boundaries around these kinds of games: 1. I must be in intentional community (i.e. no random fantasy sports play for the sake of it). 2. Little to no money exchange – maybe a $25 buy-in league would be my max as that is what it might cost to go see a movie with someone. 3. Time boundary – a few minutes to set a roster, switch something around, etc. Not spending hours upon hours researching and studying things. 4. Not letting it interfere with family time, work time, or ministry time. 5. Asking people to reflect back to me on whether it seems to be an interference or is taking a wrong level of priority (i.e. do they see ill effects)?

A biblical guideline for me is Philippians 4:8,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

When I sense that the fantasy game is starting to become anything other than these things, it’s time to shut it down, turn it off, cut it out of life. As a Christ-follower it is important to stay grounded in the reality of the world and not be distracted and tempted into creating my own reality which leads me away from what I ought to be focused on.

Blessings,

Rev. Brad Kenney

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