Sports Fantasy Reality

Sports fantasy becomes reality when (Life)

At the recent “Sports Law and Policy Symposium” at Stanford University, I participated on a panel. Three specialists with extensive backgrounds in gaming and sports law, as well as the vice president of Draft Kings, a market leader in fantasy sports, were on the panel. I had first intended to accept the invitation with a robust ethical condemnation of fantasy sports. Although I don’t think the technique is immoral per per, I do have certain issues, as I discussed with the Draft Kings Vice President over dinner the night before the event. I also see this as a wonderful chance for introspection, particularly on these three ethical issues:

Fantasy Sports Bonuses What We Value Not

In contrast to the athlete who is more closely linked with Me-First than Team-First, or The Ball Hog, we (supposedly) respect the athlete who is team-oriented. Fantasy Sports, however, exhorts us to pay attention to the exact opposite. Athletes who try to inflate their stats are probably more valuable to fantasy sports players since they score more fantasy points.

Here, we might learn from Aristotle, whose ethical framework was more concerned with pondering the question, “What type of person do I want to be?” than with formulating ethical norms. What kind of fan do I want to be in this situation? Because we risk becoming the kind of fans we really don’t want to be if we get so engrossed in fantasy sports that we lose sight of what we are celebrating. The plus-minus metric, which is most commonly used in basketball and, more lately, ice hockey, is one that I’d want to see incorporated in fantasy sports because it would allay the aforementioned worry.

Since it takes into account the following metric, this most closely aligns with the team-oriented player: Is the team scoring or being scored upon when a specific athlete is participating in the game? It recognizes the athlete who is willing to make the little sacrifices for the team, such as hustle back on defense or drive through the opposition’s zone to break down the defense and free up a passer (who receives an assist) and shooter (who scores points). However, despite his efforts, this player receives no Fantasy Points. Although difficult to measure and rarely acknowledged, playing strong defense improves team performance, which is what we really appreciate in team sports.

2. Fantasy Sports Commodify and Dehumanize Athletes

When a Fantasy Player is hurt, the typical reaction is something like, “Oh fantastic! He will no longer contribute to my fantasy team’s scoring. Similar to how Isaiah Thomas recently lost his sister in a vehicle accident, which led him to declare, understandably, “I wanted to give up and quit,” a fantasy player may be more focused on their own fantasy scoring than the suffering this particular person has gone through.

Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher, claimed that this is what qualifies as the standard for determining the unethical treatment of another. In other words, these athletes become disposable, dehumanized, and we regard them only as a means to our own objectives.

However, we should look at all sports enthusiasts before we judge the Fantasy Sports player. When a star athlete is hurt or through a personal loss, the genuine fan experiences a comparable type of the aforementioned annoyance. Here in the Bay Area, I overheard many San Francisco Giants supporters bemoaning shortstop Brandon Crawford’s absence from the field early in the season due to the passing of his wife’s sister, and then a month later when he hurt his groin. They speak in the first person, as do most zealots, saying, “Oh terrific. That will seriously harm us. On the pitch, we will undoubtedly struggle from this point on.

However, because they actually do lose anything in their situation, the problem facing the Fantasy Sports participant is made worse. While the Giants fan feels as though he has lost something but actually hasn’t, the fantasy sports player DOES lose something: the fantasy points he would have accrued, which translates to dollars lost. As a result, it is even more likely that they will view these athletes as nothing more than tools for achieving their own goals.

And once more, in the end, we have to consider if any of us actually “treat” these players. The athlete is not engaged by either the fantasy or actual fan. Similar to how we don’t “treat” a dancer we see on television for simply aesthetic reasons, we aren’t “treating” these guys like anything.

The underlying worry is that fantasy sports players can develop a moral habit that makes them view these people—the athletes—in a way that is contrary to how we would normally think is best.

3. Covert Dependence

Fantasy sports also raise the issue of addiction, which is worse because it happens secretly like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This is supported by a number of investigations and studies, as well as a now-famous Frontline piece that first brought the issue to light. The language in a Draft Kings advertising suggests that fantasy sports businesses take this into account: “Pick your sport. Select your team. And take your money.”

There’s no denying that playing Fantasy Sports well needs some talent (a crucial proviso), but many people who are prone to the addictive nature of gambling engage in the activity under the pretense that it’s “just a game” or “a way to connect with my passion of sports.”

Additionally, ads of all stripes manipulate viewers’ emotions and brain chemistry. Much of this comes down to a paternalism dilemma: To what extent should we shield people from their own (often unacknowledged) flaws while yet allowing them to express their own autonomy? Regardless, it raises ethical questions about how it should be advertised to the general public since it is gambling and could therefore be addictive.

The Final Act

Clearly, Fantasy Sports conceal much more than meets the eye. In addition to the three aforementioned primary concerns, three additional, less important ones come up: the relative importance of chance and skill in fantasy sports; whether or not fantasy sports players should take into account the unethical behavior of the athletes they selected for their teams; and the worry that this makes cheating in the actual games more likely. We also need to think about how Fantasy Sports affects young athletes, who make up the vast majority of athletes in our country.

At the very least, this relatively new concept of fantasy sports gives us a tremendous opportunity to consider our own lives, both in and outside of sports, and to make more educated decisions in the event that we decide to participate in the fantasy sports industry. Sports fans can take a step back, think about what kind of fan—and person—they want to be in both their fantasy lives and their real lives by joining Aristotle, Kant, and Seinfeld.

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