I was recently named the commissioner for my 12-year-old fantasy football league. While this seems like an honor and a privilege, most league commissioners can attest to the fact that this title causes you to contemplate suicide on a week-to-week basis. Still, it’s a role I’ve embraced over the past few weeks. As fantasy season heats up, we’ve started discussions on several league rules including roster spots, money buy-ins, and the always debated PPR vs. non-PPR scoring situation. But while I was completing a full writeup of league rules, I noticed on my Twitter feed that Ray Rice was speaking to the press.
Unless you live under a rock (or don’t have Internet access and basically avoid headlines involving pro sports) I probably don’t have to tell you what Rice did to his fiancee Janay Palmer this offseason in a casino elevator. It was disgusting. But in the aftermath of the entire situation, Rice has received public support from his coach John Harbaugh and fans. Some random dude named Stephen A. Smith even went on to insinuate that Palmer should consider her own role in the incident and warned women to not do anything to “provoke wrong action” by men. In the end, Rice was handed a paltry two-game suspension, much to the dismay of media members and NFL fans.
So here I am, new commissioner of my league, watching another Rice press conference where he struggles to find the right words for a long overdue apology while being scrutinized by millions. Then a thought hit me:
Should I ban Rice from my fantasy league?
The answer seems simple enough. Rice is a perennial top-tier running back in the fantasy world. But in the real world, the man knocked a woman out cold and dragged her limp body out of the elevator as if she was a dead carcass of an animal he had just hunted. My initial thought was to propose a ban as a small, but unified symbolic gesture against domestic violence for my league of 12 individuals. Moreover, I didn’t want to put anyone in my league in the awkward situation of drafting Rice, then rooting for him on game day. It felt like the right thing to do. But even with a small change like this, questions arise.
First and foremost, who cares? As the tweet above mentions, it’s not like Rice is going to be crying his eyes out if one fantasy football league boycotts him. So then what’s the point of this anyway? Maybe I was just instituting this ban to feel good about myself, the same way humanitarians use their pictures from abroad for their Tinder profiles.
And then there’s this:
Oh boy. Forget the fact that I’m a huge Cowboys fan and wear a Dez Bryant jersey week in and week out for a second. If my league is banning Rice, should we absolve Dez for allegedly slapping his mother with a baseball hat and pulling her hair? What about the other players who received DUIs, were accused of sexual assault, or ran underground dog-fighting rings? Are we singling out Rice because his actions occurred a few months ago? And what about next year, can we draft Rice then?
Last year, Grantland’s Andrew Sharp wrote an excellent piece on the hypocrisy of watching a football game. Every Sunday, football players put their lives and futures on the line for the sole purpose of entertaining us via a multi-billion dollar industry. We often turn a blind eye toward their health and their history, as long as they help our team win. In fantasy, it goes to another level. As one of my fellow Bro Jackson writers Robert Inks pointed out via email.
This comes from a place of respect for your aims — what’s the point? Drafting Ray Rice for your fantasy football team isn’t a tacit acceptance of his reprehensible actions any more than any other interaction you’ll ever have with the NFL. If I buy an NFL-branded case of Bud Light or buy a Riley Cooper jersey or watch the game at Buffalo Wild Wings, that doesn’t mean I’m saying that these are good people; I’m saying that I like watching football. With fantasy, you go even further: You separate players from any context whatsoever — their teams, the weather, the condition of the field, their innumerable personal failings — in favor of purely looking at numbers they produce. Those numbers don’t have inherent morality; they’re just numbers.
It’s true that when you’re drafting a player in fantasy football, your main goal is to select someone who will yield the highest production for your team. Bu even for the casual fantasy football fan, part of the fun of drafting players that aren’t on your favorite team is building a connection with them. One of the members of my league drafted Marshawn Lynch a few years ago, and though he is a 49ers fan, Lynch has become one of his favorite players in the league due to his outrageous clothing choices and, well, this. When you draft Rice, Michael Vick, or Ben Rothelisberger, I’m quite certain you aren’t selecting them because you approve of their lifestyle branding. You’re drafting them for the same reason a GM selects them: They’re going to help you win.
With all that said, banning one player for his reprehensible actions from your virtual league may seem trivial. Still, it’s hard to get the images out of my head of Rice dragging the unconscious woman he loved like a rag doll every time his name gets brought up. At the end of the day, you have to start somewhere. A small gesture like the ban I proposed to my league at least brings awareness and opens up the discussion. If anything, the person in your league who drafts Rice should have an understanding of what it might mean to the next person and the greater significance of this issue.
So that’s what I’m going to encourage everyone to do.
Bring it up with the members of whatever league your part of, and consider putting a Rice ban up to a vote. You’re not a bad person if you allow him to be drafted, and you’re certainly no saint if you do ban him. But without at least considering the issue at hand, we’re no better than the owners and NFL commissioner that we complain about all the time. It really comes down to having an open discussion and collectively deciding what your league should do. That’s exactly what I’m doing with my league, and I’ll be interested to see what the group’s final decision is.