LaDainian Tomlinson wants your vote. Today he kicked off a national multi-city campaign tour asking fans to make him their number one pick in the 2008 FOXSports.com Fantasy Football draft. Channeling Hillary Clinton early this morning outside the midtown Manhattan studio of Fox and Friends, Tomlinson confidently told the show host "I'm proven and I'll be ready on day one."
While jokes about his "carbon footprint" flew over the All-Pro running back's head, red-white-and-blue "LT in '08" placards waved in the background. He kissed babies, pressed the flesh and handed out buttons and T-shirts.
And get this: sign-up incentives include a contest where the two (2) winners spend the day with LT in San Diego following the season plus 50 people can win signed autographed footballs and one lucky fan wins a night of drinking games with Brit Hume at the Mayflower Hotel. (That last part is unconfirmed.)
It's a stunning campaign. And football is all the worse for it.
A significant but overlooked article on the fantasy football epidemic posted 18 months ago on ESPN.com by Greg Garber elicited some compelling responses from NFL players and coaches who commented on how fantasy football has infected their game.
Former Denver QB Jake Plummer:
"I think it's ruined the game, actually. [sic] There are no true fans anymore, because if I lose a game I come out of Invesco Field and there's not a Denver fan mad that I lost, but happy because I threw three TDs. When I was growing up, I was a fan of my team, not the points I'm getting.
"It's kind of unnerving to me because you're like, 'We didn't win, but you're happy.' That's not right, because I'm not happy. I don't care if I throw five TDs if we lose. It's all about getting the win."
Former Rams QB Marc Bulger:
"The last three or four years, [fantasy points are] all they care about. [sic] They come up to you: 'Ah, you lost, [but] you still threw for 300. Great job, I got you this week.'"
"I'm more worried about sometimes dealing with people [about fantasy] than I am if we won or lost. Because if you throw for 200 yards, no touchdowns and win, people are more mad at you."
Former Giants Running back Tiki Barber on fantasy football fans:
"All they care about is whether I get 150 yards and two touchdowns, whereas all I care about is whether or not we win. So there's an incongruity in the wants."
Peyton Manning describing a typical conversation with a fantasy fan:
"Hey, great game last week."
"Yeah, but we lost."
"But you threw five touchdowns, and that's all I need from you."
So I put it to the candidate. Does LaDanian Tomlinson think fantasy fans don't really get it?
"I may have a great game-- almost 200 yards, 3 touchdowns -- and there's always that guy who comes up to me and says 'Man, why didn't you get 200 yards and why didn't you get another touchdown?' That happens more often than a lot of people think."
Yikes. But LT, do you really think that fantasy fans have stopped caring whether their NFL team wins or loses and is more focused on whether you score fantasy points for them?
"I think that's pretty accurate ... That's typical of a fantasy owner -- you really only care about winning your [fantasy] league."
He lost my vote.
As is the wont of the highlight-culture-conditioned masses who call themselves "sports fans," fantasy sports are yet another shorthand way of enjoying the game without needing the actual game, which is not really enjoying the game at all. What it is, is dumbing down fans and further separating them from the actual game. It's like snarky, gossipy sports blogs that care more about who's shirtless holding a bottle booze in the offseason or like the obnoxious manufactured noise at stadiums that drowns out the real noise and real activity on the field or like video games that simulate (more like exaggerate) the experience of real games (God forbid we get off the couch and play one of these sports). We sell everything in sports but the real sport. The result is that you've got an enormous number of people calling themselves "sports fans" who know or care little about the rich, complex, live and ultimately redeeming cultural institution called "sports." Fantasy sports contribute to this as much as anything. Sorry LT.