It’s an age-old argument – one that pre-dates our marriage by at least three years. An argument that is rooted in the very beginnings of our falling in love: “No, you can’t be in our league.”
“Our league” of course refers to the men’s fantasy football* league. For years, I’ve tried to get to the end zone of the glass grid-iron by earning one of the coveted spots in my husband’s two fantasy leagues, to no avail. To a point I understand the hesitation. It’s something the guys do together. It’s their “thing.” And, I need to respect that my wine after work is his smack board and draft day. And yet, when they are scrambling for people to fill positions left vacant by the non-committal, my pleas and bargaining are never taken seriously.
But the answer can’t be because I’m green. I’m no stranger to fantasy football. For the past five years I’ve been overseeing my own league as commissioner. “It’s Gina” is a rag-tag group of women, most of whom legitimately love football and want to get in on the fun.
But, while our league has a lot of heart, it’s also a little flimsy. More than once we’ve had some more peripheral teams drop out after a year of giving it a shot, or decide that it’s not for them. Our league offers these women a safe place to try something new. Whatever their reason for joining, they are allowed to have those reasons without the scrutiny and criticism that seems inherent in most other leagues – especially “their leagues.” Our core of devoted fantasy fan-girls continues on each year, welcoming newbies to the league when needed. While a keeper league is a dream for a few of us, it is considerably harder to keep a group of 10-12 women dedicated to fantasy football for the long haul.
Last night, after many years of fascist league management, my husband’s league crumpled under the heavy iron fist of their commissioner (and self-appointed fantasy dictator). For a brief moment the decision was to watch as the league folded in on itself, or to start anew with new leadership and a new league. In light of this news, I saw a glimmer of hope – a chance to get in to a true keeper league. I immediately texted the owner of the new hope (and league) telling him I’d join in a heartbeat. I’ll happily pay the $100 entry, gladly draft with super short notice, and even willingly take someone else’s keepers from years gone by. The text I got back said, “It’s up to [your husband].” There, inevitably, is the point when the argument turns into a real evaluation of the sexism that’s still inherent in the overall discussion.
Thankfully, my husband isn’t ignorant enough to suggest that a girl can’t play fantasy football (especially after my 10-4, division winning season last year), but our friends don’t necessarily share the same feelings. Many times I’ve been forced to defend either my love of football, my understanding of fantasy football or the NFL, or my reasons for managing a league. I’ve never heard these same expectations being put on any of the guys in either of the two “men’s leagues” – not even for the guy who kept Sam Bradford as a first rounder (that’s really, really bad choice, for those who don’t follow football).
Even after going through the rehearsed and long performed pantomime: doing my best impression of a man who knows his shit, I’ve been called a “fake,” a “liar” and a “parrot.” Even after clearly outlining my league, using all the right acronyms – PPR, IDP, 2 QB – it doesn’t count. Because I’m a woman. Because I didn’t have posters of Dan Marino on my wall between ’84-“˜99, because I don’t have a stockpile of memories of going to games with my dad, and because I don’t have a dick, it doesn’t count. What I never understand, and can never get my adversaries to understand, is that my interest, passion and knowledge isn’t some grand gesture or flag planting moment for feminism, I just want to play the game. I’m not the one trying to prove something, they are.
Now, I’m not about to be completely bitter about the whole thing. I more than prove myself each year. And that’s where my frustration comes in. I talk the talk and I walk the walk. Fantasy football is almost as accurate as rolling dice. You can try to go into a draft with a strategy or a plan but one injury later and your whole season can be shot. And yet five years of league dedication and true fandom isn’t enough to warrant me as a legitimate fantasy football player.
This season, I get my chance to finally prove something which shouldn’t have to be proven. Armed with someone else’s keepers and a growing chip on my shoulder, I’ve been adopted into “their league.”
*Fantasy football, for those who aren’t familiar, is a way for people to have a stake in the NFL season by acting like team managers. In this case, you manage a fantasy team of players. You can pick any player from any team in the actual league to be on your team. There are many different scoring options in fantasy football but the league I manage uses an IDP, PPR format. This means that we draft individual defensive players and give points per reception. Each week a real NFL player’s performance is what dictates your team’s points. For instance, if I draft Tom Brady for my fantasy team and he throws four touchdowns in his real game on Sunday, my fantasy team gets the corresponding points for that performance. Each week, you rely on good real-life game performance from people you’ve drafted for your fantasy team. A keeper fantasy league is a league wherein people keep really good players, in the spot they were drafted in. If I drafted Tom Brady as my first pick I no longer get to pick a new player with that pick, and have to wait until the next round.
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