Both of my boys love sports, so I guess it was inevitable that they'd discover fantasy sports leagues. They are, after all, male.
About two years ago, my older son Tommy, age 11, started noticing the steady stream of individual player statistics scrolling across the bottom of the television screen during football, basketball and baseball games. He'd read them to see how his favorite players were doing. Then he'd read them to see if anybody was doing better than his favorite players. Then he'd just read them so he could quote statistics with anyone interested in a certain team.
And then, thus educated, he heard his Uncle Bill -- my younger brother and a fellow sports nut -- talking about playing in a fantasy baseball league with his friends. That fall, Tommy asked if we could do a Johnson family league with me, his dad and his brother Sammy, 9. We created one last year and, lo and behold, Tommy won. He also talked Bill's ear off about it. So when this fall rolled around, Bill invited Tommy and Sammy to co-manage a team in an online league he does with 10 other people via Yahoo Sports.
Nice, but... gulp. As one Facebook friend put it, "Good luck with that."
That's because anyone who has entered the fantasy scene knows that it can range from a fun, harmless hobby to time-consuming insanity. That team managers can get so absorbed with individual performances, so obsessed with crunching numbers on a computer screen, that watching games and rooting for actual teams is no longer fun. One person close to me partially blames his obsession with fantasy sports for the demise of his marriage. There's also the addictive (and grown-up) factor of gambling, although this league only had a $10 entry fee.
Still, the answer was pretty easy for me, especially given Tommy and Sammy's enthusiasm. They love their uncle, and this will be another bonding opportunity for all of them. They'll have to put aside any sibling rivalry and work together rather than competing with each other. They'll have too many other things going on in their lives -- school, baseball and flag football teams and friends -- to spend too much time on the computer. Plus, the computer is in our family room, under parental controls.
We've talked about keeping the fantasy thing light and polite. If it gets too serious or the trash-talking gets inappropriate, I can always take over their team and run it into the ground with my cluelessness.
Not to mention the fact that I have gained a piece of leverage in the "do your homework" wars. As in, no fantasy football until homework is done. Maybe the league will even give the boys some extra math practice with its focus on statistics, or spelling lessons through their posts on the message board, or reading skills from all the articles on fantasy football that they'll inevitably read? I can always hope, right?
Yesterday was the draft (that's the scene of the photo), and The Hurricanes, anchored by quarterback Cam Newton of the Panthers and tight end Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots, are now an official member of the league. When an opposing team manager tried to talk trash on a chat board by saying he'd turn any hurricanes into weak tropical storms, Tommy responded that all the hot air was contributing to warmer temperatures which make hurricanes stronger. Burn!
I suppose I should apologize to any future wives for giving my sons early entry into this world, unless they happen to marry one of the growing number of women who love fantasy sports too. Or... maybe someday these wives will thank me for showing them how to keep fantasy leagues, and any sports gambling, very much in control and in perspective. If I succeed in doing that, of course.
For now: Go Hurricanes!