I Introduced My Son to Fantasy Football and Created a Monster
At 4:30 AM on Monday morning my 6-year old son opened my bedroom room with the vigor of a superhero about the save the world and energetically declared: “Mommy, I just had a dream that Matthew Stafford threw 3 touchdown screens to Ameer Abdullah and we won the money this week. Do you think that will happen?”
“No,” I grumpily uttered. He didn’t go back to bed. Neither did I. It sucked. I’m still tired.
When my family moved from the suburbs of New York to Oakland this summer I knew it would be especially difficult for my 6-year old. He had made many close friends, including an incredible group of neighborhood kids that would hang out and play sports every single day. It was an idyllic situation.
To help soften the blow of the move and keep a connection to his NY friends, I had an idea: Start a new fantasy football league for him and his friends. The Next Generation Fantasy Football League was born. Some harmless fun, plus I always maintain that fantasy is the best fan to draw newbies into the NFL. At least I used to.
My son already loved the NFL. Though he never complained when I dressed him in a Frank Gore jersey from ages 18 months to 3 years, this authoritarian form of parenting probably sparked his independence as fan. He was born in D.C. and thus decided to glom onto the Washington football team. Kirk Cousins became his new favorite player and soon he wouldn’t miss a game. His NY friends rarely left the house without donning something Odell Beckham-ish so the interest in the football permeated the area, as did some minor NFC East trash-talking as a result Couple that with the football clinic I hosted to teach some of the neighbors (mostly the Brits and French among them) American football and we had a community ripe to try out fantasy.
Ah, it all felt so innocent then.
The draft was adorable enough. We studied rankings together and talked strategy and I even let him draft Willie Snead because, as those who have read The Lorax know, a Snead is a thing that everyone needs (until the Snead gets suspended). My son was on cloud nine that night giving play-by-play of everyone’s picks and cutely asking if he could draft Jordy Nelson even though he was selected four rounds earlier. At some juncture around the 7th round, I asked the other parents whether or not their kids were still drafting. None of them were. It was all parents and my son. He would have lasted 75 rounds.
My son’s obsession with fantasy (and obsession is putting it mildly) has only grown exponentially since. It’s all he wants to discuss.
Me: “What did you learn in school today.”
Him: “Do you think we should play Will Lutz or Greg the Leg this week?”
Me: “What should we make for dinner?”
Him: “Can we get Mitch Trubisky on waivers?”
Sundays are an entirely different beast. “Mommy, what’s our score?” 2 seconds later. “Mommy, what’s our score?” 2 seconds later. “Mommy, what’s our score.” It’s fantasy football’s version of, ‘are we there yet?’ and it’s the worst.
Things officially went off the rails a few weeks ago when my son attended a birthday party on a Sunday. I was in the press box at Levi’s Stadium and received a text from the birthday boy’s dad about 90 minutes after the party started: “Your son says he’s bored and wants to go home and watch football.” He has never asked to leave a party early, and I was mortified. My husband got him and within 10 minutes they predictably called because my son was hankering for a fantasy football update.
There have been some decent moments in his fantasy football life like when we play 20 Questions and the answer is invariably JuJu Smith-Schuster or Travis Kelce or someone on our team. My son also knows a ridiculous amount about football, including the rulebook. I was particularly taken aback last Sunday when he called a defensive holding before the announcers. So yes, as soon as he learns to type and spell, I’ll be putting him to work! It’s also pretty touching that he loves something in the realm of my actual profession. (My lawyer husband is jealous, though he dutifully tries to connect by explaining you can’t have sports without rules.)
But unfortunately the core objective, keeping him connected with his New York friends through fantasy has not gone the way I had hoped. Why write a letter or send little Sam a cute video message about how he’s going to handle his Patriots-laden roster on New England’s bye when roster moves are viewable online? He’s already experiencing how easy access to online information stifles communication.
The breaking point finally came two weeks ago when in the midst of the NFL Sunday my kid declared that he cared more about fantasy than the Washington team, the same team that a year earlier had inspired him to say he wished he had a brother named DeSean.
I’m not a natural parent. I don’t know how to beautifully organize a kid’s room and I had to put on a YouTube video to teach my kid how to tie his shoelaces. Luckily love, a burning interest in my kids’ development and ability to figure crap out has guided me to this point. But there is no tutorial on how to bring fandom back into your child’s life. I fear my harmless idea has stripped my kid of one of the greatest joys in life.
Operation less fantasy, more fandom has begun. He has spent a lot of time reading books about teamwork and hearing me regale him with tales of emotionally watching my teams (my real teams) win and lose. It might be working.
The greatest trajectory changer happened in Seattle last Sunday when Kirk Cousins valiantly marched Washington 70 yards in :30 seconds to take a 17-14 lead over Seattle with :59 seconds left. Maybe it was our screaming or maybe it was the drama of the moment, but when my husband asked our kid if he’d rather have our fantasy player, Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin score a long touchdown or Washington hold onto the lead and win, he paused before saying Washington. My heart sung.
Then it sank back a few hours later when I was being grilled about Stafford’s fantasy prospects in the middle of the night.