Monday morning, TMZ released the video footage of Ray Rice cold-cocking his wife Janay Palmer from a casino elevator incident February 15. In response, the Ravens and the NFL made the most obvious moves in public relations history by releasing Rice and suspending him indefinitely. I was sitting in my boxers enjoying a fresh batch of banana chocolate chip pancakes (humble brag) when I heard the news via Twitter. Two immediate thoughts came to my mind.
2. I wonder who out of Justin Forsett, Bernard Pierce, or Lorenzo Taliaferro will have more value in 2014?
But if you don’t understand my second thought, it’s because you don’t play fantasy football. In essence, I was wondering which backup running back was going to step up with Rice gone and possibly lead me to a fantasy championship. Who could be a potentially cheap waiver wire replacement with a lot of yards and touchdowns in their future with the Ravens? I wasn’t the only one thinking about this. My Twitter timeline started to flood with people calling for the Ravens PR department to be fired–mixed with others doling out thoughts on potential breakout Ravens RBs. I saw people advising against adding Pierce in Week 2, while others prayed for Palmer to end her relationship with the fallen Ravens’ RB. It didn’t hit me when I first had these thoughts, but when I saw it typed out on my screen, it felt gross.
On one hand, I get it. By playing fantasy football, our job is to emulate a GM of a team. But we have one advantage over real owners: We have the luxury of thinking analytically about our lineups, rosters, and player transactions in our league. We remorselessly add and drop players on a weekly basis without any regret. Acting quickly and swiftly in a situation like this without any moral conscience can be the difference between hoisting a trophy or participating in an unflattering photo shoot.
But on the other hand, it felt wrong as hell. It took me a minute, but I finally tore myself out of the “who should I add” mindset and stepped back to analyze the my own thoughts. Justice had finally prevailed (sort of) for man who socked his wife in the face, and all I could think about was who had the most yards per carry in the Baltimore backfield. Although indirectly, I was dehumanizing Palmer’s elevator nightmare with my petty fantasy football thoughts.
We can pounce on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell all we want, but the man has shepherded football into America’s true pastime and the most lucrative sport in the nation. Goodell’s aim to achieve $25 billion in annual revenue by 2027 doesn’t seem so far-fetched when you remember that 111 million people watched the Super Bowl last year in 198 different countries. On top of that, Goodell has helped market fantasy football as a secondary form of entertainment that enhances the fan experience. By integrating fantasy advice shows and the Red Zone channel, fantasy football has become a Sunday staple for over 33 million people in the United States.
But a dark side of the NFL has surfaced to the forefront of the public as the league has gained popularity. We’ve become numb to hearing stories about performance enhancing drugs, substance abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence. Most recently, lawsuits linking concussions to brain damage, death, and suicide of former players have caused the NFL a headache of its own. We used to say “they’re risking their lives out there” as a way to glorify NFL players who take the field. Now we say it because they literally are risking their lives for a shot at fame and a paycheck.
As much as I want to hate the NFL for all the moral issues it needs to deal with, I have to credit Goodell for his ability to make me overlook these things when they get in my way of enjoying Sundays. He doesn’t pay child support? Whatever, he scored 17 points for me in fantasy this week. He may have raped someone? Just don’t suspend him for Week 3 when he’s playing the Raiders defense. I even wrote about possibly not drafting Rice this season in fantasy football a few weeks ago, and almost took him in the sixth round. We go through these conundrums every season, but fantasy football, the teams we support, and the league always come out on top.
Was it insensitive for all of us to tweet about how we just scooped up Forsett in our leagues immediately after the Ravens announced Rice had been cut? Sure. But does it make it any better if we did it tomorrow, or the day after? Am I going to stop watching football or playing fantasy? Nope.