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The Good Press - Issue #22: Fantasy and Reality

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The Good Press

September 16 · Issue #22 · View online

A newsletter of observations about life, sports, and/or anything else that comes to mind


Hello and welcome to another edition of The Good Press.
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Fantasy and Reality
“Are you ready for some football?”
That’s the rhetorical question America is asked each autumn, as the sport so synonymous with fall kicks off each September and quickly becomes the most-watched and most-anticipated television product of the year.
According to the data, four of the five most-watched 2019 primetime TV broadcasts were football, as were six of the top ten, and 20 of the top 50. Not just most-watched sports broadcasts; most-watched TV programs, period.
With the return of NFL football comes one of America’s favorite diversions, fantasy football. Nearly 60 million people played fantasy sports in 2017, according to data from the Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association, and 80% of fantasy sports players played fantasy football, a true cultural phenomenon.
For those who are unfamiliar with how fantasy football is played, here is a comprehensive primer. But the gist of the game is that fantasy football assigns simple point values to statistical achievements on the real football field, and the fantasy game strategy is all about constructing a roster. Like poker, it’s part skill and part luck. If the ball bounces your way, you cash out.
Needless to say, be it fantasy or reality, football is big business. There is a lot of economic muscle being powered by this tremendously popular sport. It’s pretty amazing that we got here considering the current state of the country.
At the beginning of July, I wrote in this space about the intended return-to-play plans for many of the professional sports leagues in this country. As you may remember, I was not very confident that it would go off without a hitch.
Credit where credit is due. Here we are in mid-September, and the pro sports that have returned have mostly avoided catastrophic major outbreaks or community spread, thanks in part to the measures put in place by the leagues and players, including the revolutionary idea of clean site “bubble” campuses.
There have been some hiccups, especially in Major League Baseball, where they did not use the bubble format and have been traveling from city to city, but, (knock on wood) everything is progressing well towards a completed season. When you have the billion-dollar budgets that these major sports leagues have, you can afford the resources necessary to keep people safe.
College sports have not been so fortunate, despite enormous political pressure from major college athletic conferences to get the games going at all costs. All costs; including the health and safety of the unpaid athletes.
Some schools are playing football to make their boosters happy, apparently with a bunch of hopes and prayers. Others have postponed games because the logistical difficulties of football in a pandemic are incredibly challenging.
Yes, it’s reality that COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the American economy.
But it’s fantasy to pretend COVID-19 can be ignored because fans are bored.
College football vs. the Coronavirus | Vox Explainer
It’s also fantasy to think that the public health crisis and the economic crisis are opposing forces. On the contrary, solving the former will solve the latter.
Instead, we’ve watched our country’s leadership squander the last six or seven months of pandemic preparation and it’s been ordinary citizens like you and me who have stepped up, masked up, and protected our neighbors.
Does it fell like a whirlwind to you, too? Check out this timeline of events from Axios and try to imagine explaining 2020 to the next generation:
Timeline: March through September | Axios
Needless to say, without real guidance from the federal government, the next steps forward are complicated. There are political and economic pressures in the “the show must go on” mentality behind putting football games on at all costs. In the NFL, where players are paid for their work, the league and the players will pay whatever the costs are to try to complete the entire season.
The NFL, like baseball, is going to try to do this without a bubble format. I sincerely wish them good luck with that, because fans are desperate to plug into the fantasy of the games as a respite from the reality of the world.
Are we ready for some football? In this environment? The sports calendar is entirely out of whack because of the coronavirus, and now football is back?
Usually, when football season starts, sports viewers aren’t still neck-deep in the NBA and NHL playoffs like we are now. Last Thursday, September 10, we had one of the most unique events in sports, a “sports equinox” unlike any other, in which MLB baseball, NBA basketball, NHL hockey, NFL football, MLS soccer, WNBA basketball, college football, PGA and LPGA golf, and U.S. Open tennis games, matches, and events all took place on the same day.
Whew. That’s even exhausting to type. We went from no sports to ALL THE SPORTS!!!! and even as someone who’s always been a big sports fan, it feels like sports overload. I don’t think I’m 100% ready for some football, not yet.
But I’ll watch some of it here and there, sure. If I’ve got some free time, of course I’ll watch the Jets reinvent embarrassing ways to lose football games. There’s some comfort in that. That makes it feel like any other normal year.
In Other Words
Thanks to sports betting and fantasy games, the NFL requires teams to publicly assign injury probability ratings to each of their injured players: from “questionable” to play, “doubtful” to play, to “out” if they miss the game.
Monitoring injury reports in case one of your players is unavailable to play is the game within the game of fantasy football. You have to have a backup plan.
I’ve seen players listed as “questionable” to play with hamstring injuries. I’ve seen players downgraded to “doubtful” after re-aggravating previous injuries. Last week, we had something somewhat unique: a player who was listed as “questionable” because of uncertainty about being able to breathe.
San Francisco 49er Tevin Coleman was listed as “questionable” to play because he was born with a genetic predisposition to breathing difficulties. So when his team’s stadium had decreased air quality from the raging wildfires across the western part of the country, his playing status was put in question.
That’s reality, not fantasy.
Coleman, a 27-year-old running back, has dealt with these complications before. Due to being born three months premature with sickle cell trait, Coleman has had his career affected by environments in which breathing could become a challenge, such as the thin air of high-elevation Denver. You can read more about him and his family story in this profile from January.
49ers’ Tevin Coleman is a survivor and he believes his young daughter will be, too | The SF Chronicle
As much as we love sports in this country as the much-needed distraction and entertainment we crave as an escape from the reality of life in 2020, it’s hard to deny reality. And, in fact, it’s unhealthy to even try to deny reality.
Ignoring reality is not the way to go through life, as difficult as 2020 has been.
We can try to enjoy our sports, but the next time you get frustrated that your fantasy football players underperformed last week? Well, maybe checking the home team’s Air Quality Index number is the newest fantasy sports tool.
Improbably, Coleman ultimately did participate in the game, though he had a reduced role as the coaches seemingly didn’t want to push him. It’s hard for these pro athletes in that sport, especially, modern-day gladiators, to say they don’t think they can play. The warrior mentality is always to play. The 49ers lost the game, but at least none of their players were hospitalized.
Small victories! Hopefully you didn’t start Coleman on your fantasy team!
Watching football and playing fantasy football in some ways are the ultimate distractions from reality. But in a year like this? I understand it. I’m watching, too. I’m monitoring injury reports and setting fantasy lineups, too. Even if it’s sports overload. Sometimes we need it to balance out the bad news overload.
I encourage you, always, to be informed about the world around us, as harrowing as it is. But you can’t stay plugged into it 24/7. It’s healthy to allow yourself to switch your brain off for a bit for some mindless distractions. Many people don’t have the luxury to just relax and watch the ball bounce.
Naomi Osaka, the young tennis superstar who recently participated in the remarkable sports strike across the country a few weeks ago, was able to balance some remarkable dynamics as she won the U.S. Open championship.
The 22-year-old Osaka wore masks before each of her seven matches honoring seven Black Americans whose lives were cut tragically short.
Champion Osaka harnesses sport's biggest spotlight in fight for racial justice | Reuters
When asked about what message the masks were intended to send, Osaka turned it back around on all of us, asking “what was the message you got?”
That is the million-dollar question, isn’t it?
It’s not up to Black people to end racism, nor is anti-Black racism strictly a Black problem. It will take the efforts of all of us to promote anti-racist attitudes to extinguish racism and bigotry of all forms once and for all.
These protests for justice in sports aren’t new; they aren’t going anywhere.
Naomi Osaka’s U.S. Open Masks Showcase One of an Athlete’s Most Powerful Tools for Protest
That’s reality. Because for people whose skin color can be deemed a threat by anyone at any time, the daily deluge of discrimination is their reality. Protests are supposed to challenge you and make you think. So kudos to Naomi Osaka for establishing herself as a champion in more ways than one.
Parting Thoughts
If you’re reading this on Wednesday, September 16, the day it arrived in your inbox, you are reading today’s issue of The Good Press on my 32nd birthday.
I’m not much for celebrating myself or tooting my own horn, but I appreciate all the support I’ve gotten from this project in the 22 weeks it’s been going.
If I could ask for one birthday present from each of my readers, I would ask that you make a plan to vote and ask three friends if they’ve made their plans to vote, too. Vote.org and PowerThePolls.org have all the info you need.
My final thoughts on “fantasy and reality” is that we should all appreciate our rest and relaxation time, especially because the world is not allowing us a lot of leisure time these days. If you can find time to unwind, you should do that.
Trust yourself and trust your ability to keep informed about the things that matter without being swept away by tidal waves of news and information.
Keep up with the important stuff and find your leisure time when you can.
It doesn’t have to be fantasy vs. reality. “Fantasy,” at least metaphorically as any entertainment or leisure you engage with, and “reality” can and should co-exist in your world, and how you spend your time is ultimately up to you.
Thanks for spending some of your time with me this week.
Stay safe out there. Same time next week. Be well.
-Jon
Previously in The Good Press
The Good Press - Issue #21: Impact
The Good Press - Issue #20: Courage
The Good Press - Issue #19: Beginnings
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