Wednesday, November 7, 2012

5 comments Every Man with a Beard is a Sex Addict and Other Things I Made Up to Be Just Like Chuck Klosterman

Chuck Klosterman is back to do some more naval-gazing about life and tell us more on how he believes his opinions reflect on the rest of the sports-loving world. Chuck Klosterman finds that he takes fantasy football too seriously sometimes, and because Chuck believes himself to be representative of every fantasy football fan, he assumes everyone who plays fantasy football has the same issue. Chuck wonders if fantasy football is ruining our perception of athletes. He wonders this because it seems like something that could happen and since it could happen this means must be happening. Chuck uses Chris Johnson as an example of how fantasy football is ruining our perception of athletes (along with including perhaps the worst and scariest picture of Chris Johnson available at the top of the article) and this is something Chuck seems to deeply believe normal, well-adjusted human beings are struggling with when playing fantasy sports. Chuck doesn't see well-adjusted fantasy football players as being able to see Chris Johnson as an overrated running back, while also see him as being that running back deep on their fantasy football bench.

Warning: This column has a high volume of unbridled pretension. It's all over the place. 

I would never, under any circumstance I can currently imagine, write a column that argues against the concept of fantasy football...The number of years I've played fantasy football is now greater than the number of years I have not. I've been in one specific league since the latter half of Bill Clinton's presidency; it is, as far as I can tell, the longest manufactured relationship of my life

I have learned to listen to a sentence someone writes or speaks and then ignore everything said before the word "but," so the fact Chuck Klosterman starts off his column writing these words tells me in some way he will argue against the concept of fantasy football in this column.

I don't think worrying about individual statistics more than the outcome of any given game is philosophically troubling (in fact, it might be preferable). Fantasy football has increased my enjoyment of the NFL. I'll never stop playing. I love it.

Remember everything that is said before the word "but" is written or spoken.

But sometimes you have to love something in order to see its flaw.

And see because Chuck Klosterman has just passed his own test to see if he is enough of a fantasy football fan to write this column, he can now criticize fantasy football. Chuck Klosterman has created a test to determine if he is a big enough fan of fantasy football to write this column, and in a shocking turn of events he passed his own test and will now tell us (because he has the authority as given to him, by him) the flaw in fantasy sports.

I am increasingly uncomfortable with the way fantasy football changes our perception of people who are actually alive.

I don't have as long of a fantasy football resume as Chuck Klosterman has, but fantasy football has only provided an ancillary perception of a player for me. Maybe I am not obsessive enough, though I am in four fantasy football leagues, but I don't see LaDainian Tomlinson as "the guy who got me a lot of touchdowns in my fantasy league." I see him as "a Hall of Fame running back who was also a great fantasy pick for a long period of time." My perception of Tomlinson is not wholly changed by how many fantasy points he accumulated during his time in the NFL.

This wasn't a problem when I started in '90, because — at the time — only obsessives even knew what is was.

And please note how these "obsessives" weren't the ones who had their perception of a player changed by fantasy football...despite the fact they were "obsessive" about fantasy football. It is the current fantasy football participants who are ruining everything by changing the perception of players. Hmmm, not sure that logic passes my smell test.

But now 30 million people play every week, and there's a whole media industry constructed around it,

The industry has changed and sports fans now see Drew Brees in terms of him being a great quarterback, but also being an early round draft pick. I don't know if 95% of fantasy players change their opinion of Brees as a football player based on his fantasy performance though.

and there are FX sitcoms that use it as a narrative device, 

"The League" is exaggerated. If Chuck has to use a fictional television show as proof of how crazy fans can be around fantasy sports then he has already lost this argument.

and it seems to be the primary way casual fans interact with the sport on a week-to-week basis.

Other than watching the games on television, which is what millions of people do every week as well.

There is a massive, ever-expanding class of Americans who cannot remember a connection to pro football that did not involve the drafting and owning of skill players who work on their personal behalf.

Is there Chuck? Is there a massive, ever-expanding class of Americans who can not remember a connection to pro football that didn't involve fantasy sports? Or is this a statement you are making without solid proof this statement is correct? Nearly every person I know is a fan of pro football AND THEN that person gets into fantasy sports. I know of no person who doesn't watch the NFL, but plays fantasy football. Perhaps I need to meet more people. So I am calling bullshit on this. I think this is a hypothesis Chuck has created and should test as to its veracity, as opposed to a statement of fact we need to accept as true. 

And the result, I fear, has been the mild dehumanization of humans we were already prone to perceive as machines.

So now that Chuck has created a hypothesis and passed it off as a statement of fact, he can continue to create more proof that his "statement of fact" is true. It's always that tricky ability to form an opinion and pass it off as fact that gets in the way of a good persuasive essay.

What I'm proposing has more to do with how a few grains of personal investment prompt normal people to think about strangers in inaccurate, twisted, robotic ways.

The article that Chuck cites is a Grantland article written by Chuck Klosterman.

"No really everyone, normal fantasy football owners think of players as machines and lack the personal investment in these players. It's true because I wrote another article where I did this very thing! This isn't a problem that I personally have, but my personal problem is shared among a massive ever-expanding, yet largely specifically pinpointed group of people. My opinion and set of beliefs are in the mainstream because I consider myself to be in the mainstream, so there is no way my issue on how I treat NFL players in terms of their fantasy value is the outlier."

Again, Chuck Klosterman just cited his own article as proof of the dehumanization of football players by fantasy football owners. Chuck Klosterman is the empirical proof that Chuck Klosterman needs to show there is a massive, ever-growing group of people who see NFL players as robots and not human because of fantasy sports.

The person who is making me think about this is Chris Johnson.

Why is Chuck Klosterman thinking about a Canadian boxer when it comes to fantasy sports? 

I'm kidding of course. Chuck is talking about the fantasy disappointment and even bigger NFL disappointment Chris Johnson, who plays running back for the Tennessee Titans. Johnson has been terrible this year because his offensive line hasn't blocked for him and he hasn't played well. Normal, well-adjusted fantasy owners realize this and don't see Johnson's lack of fantasy statistics as reflecting on him as an NFL player.

He was the fifth running back selected in the 2008 NFL draft (not the fifth player overall — the fifth running back). He was taken by the Titans in the first round, mostly because he ran a 4.24 at the NFL combine... The running backs drafted ahead of him were Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Felix Jones, and Rashard Mendenhall.

All of these running backs tended to be fantasy disappointments at some point or another, not completely due to circumstances within their control. Injuries and carry-sharing has made these players not consistent in terms of fantasy value. Of course, it is well-thought that Darren McFadden is an incredible talent, Jonathan Stewart is the most important running back on the Panthers roster (look at how they play with him on the field and without him), and Mendenhall is considered a starting running back in the NFL. So these players have a different persona apart from their fantasy value to most of the general public, but to discuss them in this fashion would ruin Chuck's attempt at a point. Normal, well-adjusted fantasy owners can separate the fantasy Darren McFadden from the skill set of the real Darren McFadden.

In 2009, he broke the league record for yards from scrimmage with 2,509 while scoring 16 touchdowns. He was the offensive player of the year on a team that went 8-8. But he held out during training camp in 2011 for a new contract, and he has not been the same player since getting that money.

Through three games this season, he's gained a paltry 45 rushing yards in 33 attempts.

Johnson's legacy will be of a player who got paid and for one reason or another, had his production drop off fairly quickly after that. In truth, Johnson's production declined in 2010 and continued to decline as the Titans offensive line struggled to run block for him. I say this as (what I consider myself to be) as a fantasy sports player, who like most people who play fantasy sports, is able to separate the player's legacy from his fantasy value.

This being the case, what are reasonable things to say about Johnson's career, assuming he never has another significant season?

He was a great running back for a while and then he wasn't a great running back anymore. That is a reasonable thing to be said.

An optimist might suggest he wildly overachieved — he came out of nowhere and was (briefly) the best runner in the league. A pessimist might say his early success was a statistical aberration and that he eventually became the player he always was (i.e., a fast guy who is only fast). A pragmatist would argue that he had a good career that was both surprising and disappointing, almost like someone who got hurt in his prime (even though the only true injury seemed to be to his motivation). I think all of these statements are justified. However, none of them are particularly common.

What world does Chuck Klosterman live in? These are the three most common reactions I get when I talk to people about Chris Johnson...or at least some variation of these three reactions. I know Chuck is going to argue there is a separate, more severe reaction from fantasy owners, but I don't believe that reaction reflects in any way on Chris Johnson the NFL player. Normal, well-adjusted fantasy owners can differentiate between Chris Johnson the NFL player and Chris Johnson the fantasy running back.

The most universal analysis of Johnson's career is the one being expressed by fantasy owners, which essentially boils down to this: "Fuck Chris Johnson." 

This is not the universal analysis of Chris Johnson. I'm not even mad at him for being a terrible fantasy running back. I just bench him and move on. Only Tennessee Titans fans would say "Fuck Chris Johnson," while other NFL fans would have no opinion of him outside of their fantasy team. So this isn't the universal analysis of Johnson's career any more than "Aaron Rodgers is the Best" would be universal analysis of Aaron Rodgers' career. I'm going on a limb and saying every NFL fan isn't enamored with Aaron Rodgers. So there is not universal scorn for Chris Johnson just like there isn't universal praise for Aaron Rodgers. I am not sure what kind of people Chuck Klosterman is spending his time hanging around, but the analysis of Chris Johnson's career from NFL fans probably isn't "Fuck Chris Johnson." Only the most obsessive, abnormal fantasy sports fan would be unable to separate the player from the fantasy running back in this way.

This is because fantasy owners do not look at Chris Johnson's career as a reflection of Chris Johnson's life. They see Chris Johnson's career as a reflection of themselves.

No, very few people do this. Stop making shit up in order to prove your theory to be correct. No sane person sees Chris Johnson's career as a reflection of themselves, though I do enjoy the use of italics to indicate Chuck Klosterman super-duper means he is very, very serious about this statement. This use of italics in this fashion is from the Bill Simmons School of Journalism, as is speaking for a large group of people by reflecting one's own personal opinion as a shared opinion among this group of people. I am a fantasy owner and stop trying to pretend you speak for or know me. You don't speak for me. Go back to analyzing Van Halen's albums post-David Lee Roth.

They personalize his experience and hold it against him.

No, "they" don't. As commenter B.J. wrote me in an email,

if you start to "see Chris Johnson's career as a reflection of themselves" and "personalize his experience and hold it against him", you've turned the corner into something dark.

I can't believe fantasy football owners are this dark. There are few things more frustrating to me than a writer who says, "Here is what everyone is thinking," and paints a group of people in a certain fashion like Chuck is doing here. Fantasy owners see Chris Johnson as a fantasy disappointment, then move on with their life. Normal fantasy owners don't see Chris Johnson's career as a reflection of themselves. Perhaps the deranged, completely self-involved people that Chuck Klosterman knows do this, but otherwise normal fantasy owners can differentiate the two. We have to remember Chuck Klosterman just made a blanket statement about 30 million people who participate in fantasy sports and we can't get 30 million people to agree on anything, so there is a good chance Chuck is simply full of shit.

That's always what happens when something exists to you only as a commodity: You will care more about yourself than about the thing that you own.

This simply isn't a statement of truth. I don't personally view fantasy players as a commodity. They are a series of numbers with names attached and I am not delusional enough to believe these names reflect on me or the numbers beside the name reflect on that player's legacy.

In 2009, Chris Johnson had one of the greatest fantasy seasons of all time. As a result, people are going to remember him as a failure they hate.

I find it very difficult to believe fantasy owners hate Chris Johnson as a person and NFL player because he hasn't repeated his 2009 season. Mostly I would believe they are indifferent to him. He hasn't produced for their fantasy team and they wish he would.

Why were people thinking so hard about a running back's lack of production on a team that had yet to win a game?

Perhaps because Chris Johnson's increased production could take pressure off Jake Locker and this would help the Titans win a game? Maybe I am being too much of a sports fan about this, but if Chris Johnson plays well the Titans could win more games. That's why his lack of production is being discussed. Football is a team game and analysts have to discuss a player's individual performance in terms of why the team is winning or losing games.

At this point, what's more maddening than a running back who finishes a game with exactly 99 yards? Only the discovery that his backup had a one-yard touchdown.

In terms of fantasy sports this is maddening. In terms of whether the running back gets 99 yards, does this cause a person to reflect on himself or reflect on that player's career differently? Probably not.

But what's different about Johnson's 2009 campaign is that — because of fantasy — his profile became paradoxically exaggerated. His efforts particularly mattered to people who saw added value in the Titans being 8-8, because that meant they'd have no choice but to feed Johnson the rock for three quarters before throwing him garbage-time swing passes against all the prevent defenses Tennessee would inevitably see when trailing by 17.

If I could read minds as well as Chuck Klosterman can, I would be a millionaire right now.

His fantasy base had no geographic loyalty to where he played and no particular appreciation for his past. He was perceived more like an employee. Moreover, the connection these owners forged with Chris Johnson started from the premise that he was awesome — and not just that he was awesome, but that awesomeness was required in order for him to be satisfactory.

Considering this is the entire premise of fantasy sports, that a player is satisfactory enough to be placed in the starting lineup if he is going to give your team fantasy points, this group of sentences isn't convincing me of very much. It seems to me that Chuck is confusing the very premise of fantasy sports (that NFL players must be good to be in the starting lineup), with how fantasy owners feel about a player (the owner loves a player if he starts him and hates him if he is on the bench). The "awesomeness" is required because it is the very premise of fantasy sports. This isn't an indication a fantasy owner is judging a player's NFL legacy on whether he is on the bench or in the starting lineup.

A die-hard Titans fan might feel betrayed by the way Johnson is playing this year, but at least that fan loved him once; a fantasy owner never cares about the past, because he or she has no connection to anything outside the present.

There are some things that don't need to be over-analyzed. Knowing fantasy owners care about how the players on their fantasy teams perform, then translating that into fantasy owners judging a player's career based on fantasy statistics and finally seeing how this reflects upon him is excessive over-analyzing. Bill Simmons judges players by their fantasy career, but Bill Simmons also thinks jokes about "90210" are funny.

If you start from the premise that Chris Johnson owes you production, you will only remember the things Chris Johnson fails to do. Those failures will be the main thing you remember about his career.

Well, thank God Chuck Klosterman is here to tell me how I think. Otherwise, I wouldn't know what opinion I had on any topic. I wonder if Chuck knows my opinion of him as a writer?

I mention it because it's a dangerous impulse, and I am as guilty as anyone else. The moment you start looking at the lives of public figures as a hobby is the moment they stop existing as people.

I'm beginning to think Chuck is the only person guilty of seeing NFL players not as people in terms of fantasy sports. There comes a point when an analysis of a topic gets away from the writer. I think we reached that point a few paragraphs ago.

There was a time when I watched football in order to not think about my day-to-day life, but fantasy sports slowly changed that — in fact, my affinity for fantasy only makes it worse. I turn the players I draft into tiny parts of my life, which stops me from remembering that they have no relationship whatsoever to who I am.

It sounds like perhaps Chuck needs a therapist to discuss this topic with and leave the fantasy owners that he talks about in such general terms as having the same affliction as he does alone. He shouldn't lump them in.

Do I have any right to get angry at Chris Johnson? Does anyone? The fact that Johnson is killing fantasy owners should not factor into his legacy. But it will. I can see it happening, right now, before my eyes. It will end up being more galvanizing than the improbability of his 2009 greatness.

Perhaps those people who will factor his 2009 season into his legacy are people like Bill Simmons. Bill often confuses fantasy football with real football and enjoys lumping a player's fantasy legacy in with his NFL legacy. If you don't believe me go find the column Bill wrote about LaDainian Tomlinson after he retired. Because Bill Simmons does it, doesn't mean every fantasy owner does this. Contrary to the popular belief, Bill Simmons doesn't speak for sports fans everywhere.

"We can't change the present or the future," says Dylan in that same interview. "We can only change the past, and we do it all the time." He's totally, completely, undeniably right. And we're doing it to Chris Johnson, right now.

Ooooooooooooo....pretty deep stuff. A tree falls in the forest and Chuck Klosterman isn't around to hear it fall, does that mean the tree truly fell down and how does Chuck's reaction to this tree falling reflect on us as a society? 


Anonymous said...

There is a massive, ever-expanding class of Americans who cannot remember a connection to pro football that did not involve the drafting and owning of skill players who work on their personal behalf.

And the result, I fear, has been the mild dehumanization of humans we were already prone to perceive as machines.

This is textbook "begging the question." It would be difficult to find a more appropriate example of the fallacy. His reasoning behind this idea that people are viewing players in a less human way is that... they are viewing players in a less human way.

rich said...

Why were people thinking so hard about a running back's lack of production on a team that had yet to win a game?

Because signed a $53M dollar deal and with that and his past performance, there's the expectation that he will live up to that performance.

We're also talking about someone who in the off-season was talking about rushing for 2,000 yards, so he stoked the flames a bit.

But what's different about Johnson's 2009 campaign is that — because of fantasy — his profile became paradoxically exaggerated.

No, this is bullshit. The fact that Johnson was only the SIXTH player in NFL history to rush for 2000 yards was the reason people thought he'd be insanely valuable.

no particular appreciation for his past.

Unless there's a particularly inspiring player (Kurt Warner), this has always been true and fantasy football hasn't done anything to make this any worse.

In fact, I'd say fantasy actually helps people recognize these players. When you draft guys you start looking at their past performances and in some cases you realize just how good a particular player was. That and every year when a guy comes out of nowhere (like Brian Hartline this year), the fantasy crowd is usually the first to respond to their performances, which helps the player get recognition they may not have gotten.

a fantasy owner never cares about the past, because he or she has no connection to anything outside the present.

Take away fantasy and how does this change? Go back to 1980 and how many Giants fans gave a shit Ken O'Brien? The answer is zero because when you look at the past, you care about things that impact your team.

That and I guarantee there are fantasy owners who had Johnson in 2009 who look back at how well he did and compare RB performances to that.

Those failures will be the main thing you remember about his career.

Well he's actually right about this, when you have a player like Johnson, you will remember his failures. Not due to fantasy football, but because his first three years (1200+ rushing yards in each year) were so good and hasn't been able to produce up to his talent since.

This is what happens in sports, if you show flashes of brilliance and then sign a massive deal, it's expected that you continue to perform at that level.

The disgust/frustration is based in the fact that we have a guy that could be an all-time great, but seems to have given up on himself.

The fact that Johnson is killing fantasy owners should not factor into his legacy.

And it won't. Jesus Christ, who the hell is this person arguing against Johnson for killing fantasy owners? His legacy is being killed by his holdout and subsequent inability to live up to the expectations of his past performances and contract.

Johnson had an incredible 2009 and I highly doubt anyone would argue that, but given that he's still an active player, his legacy is still being forged by what he is doing. We can't simply cover up how mediocre Johnson has been this year by saying "he had a great 2009 season" because that doesn't matter right now. When he retires, we absolutely will look back at Johnson's first few years in the league, especially the 2009 season, and hold them in great appreciation.

Beyond this, the fact that he's killing fantasy owners is a direct reflection on his poor performance and thus the belittling of his legacy, not the other way around. If a player is performing even marginally well, they're typically not "killing" their owners.

jacktotherack said...

What is so infuriating about Klosterman is the way he tries to warp everything into a deeper, societal issue. I have said "Fuck Player X" about countless football players, for fantasy reasons and otherwise. Just this past week I went on a tirade yelling at T.Y. Hilton because he dropped a pass that would have given me another Andrew Luck TD pass. But the fact that I say "Hilton, you worthless sack of shit!!" doesn't mean I think Hilton is a worthless human being. For Chuck to interpret people who say "Fuck Chris Johnson" as them literally meaning "Seriously, fuck Chris Johnson, I hope he dies for not producing for my fantasy team," is just him building a strawman argument over an issue that simply doesn't exist, or doesn't exist on near the scale he is claiming.

I would argue that among our current generation of sports fans such language is common place and just an overall function of a more crass culture who enjoys talking shit about sports. It doesn't mean people are dehumanizing athletes or that it speaks to some greater problem with our culture. It's jsut the crass, profane language of sports fans. If he wants to address an issue, he should address that, not some horseshit about how people view fantasy players as commodities when 99.9% of fantasy sports players I know view it as a simple diversion.

The Rage of Larry B said...

It must be tough to be a pseudo-intellectual like Klosterman when every piece has to showcase his profundity. Can he write anything without employing his patented strawman argument device? I wouldn't be surprised if he lied about how long he has played fantasy football. I would imagine he spent most of the nineties masturbating in front of a mirror. Go pound sand, Chuck.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, very true. I am not sure I have ever read what "begging the question" really meant. I will occasionally say "that begs the question" or something to that affect, but I don't think I knew where it derived from.

Rich, very good point I didn't focus on in the column. In many ways, Chris Johnson set the expectations for himself by talking about 2000 yards in a season and then surpassing 2000 yards in another season. He helped to set the expectations for himself in this situation.

Fantasy sports doesn't affect how I look at real sports. In fact, like you said, I tend to see players probably in a better light than I would without fantasy sports. I recognize guys like Matt Forte for the all-around back that he is instead of having to watch highlights on television. I see that the Colts have done a pretty good job of getting Luck a receiving corps together (I've always like Donnie Avery, so I am biased). You see things about other teams and players you wouldn't have necessarily seen otherwise because you are focused on your team.

It's such a weird column to write. It's almost like Chuck wants to reach the conclusion that fantasy sports dehumanizes players and so he worked to come to that conclusion. I won't remember what Chris Johnson did fantasy wise in 2009. I will assume it was very good, but I will remember he had a great season and then turned into a decent back after that. I can separate the fact and fiction.

Jack, I know. It's annoying how everything is a big social issue. Give me a break. It's sports. I'm sure Chuck would like to address the crassness of fans, but he's too busy worrying that people get fantasy sports and real sports mixed up. There are morons who combine the two, but I find them to be the exception. For me, it is a simple diversion while for others, much like other things in this world that some people take too seriously, it is serious-business.

Rage, that's a long time to play fantasy sports. I tried to get a fantasy sports basketball league together in 1992 and none of my friends would play, plus we were too young and had no money to bid. Everything is an intellectual argument to show how intelligent he can be. It's frustrating to read at times because his reasoning doesn't often make sense (hence, the strawman argument device) and it feels like intellectual self-pleasuring to me as well.