"[T]hey want to be a part of something": Creating Community through Fantasy Football

Curator's Note

Per this 2015 CBS news clip, more women are participating in online NFL fantasy leagues, and I happen to be one of them. I’ve played in in-person fantasy leagues, where we met together around a table to do our “draft,” and most recently, in completely anonymous online leagues. In the first case, I was the only woman participating, and I was surprised by the edge my presence introduced into the room of guys I knew socially. When I play anonymously, even if I use my real, gender-ambiguous first name, we are all more focused on the competition and points, and that in turn creates a more satisfying community experience for me.

Even though I play online, a significant part of my fantasy participation occurs in a public space (I must go to a local pub that has an NFL Ticket subscription, so I can watch all the games at once.) In that space, I am also surrounded by other fans who are simultaneously participating in their own fantasy leagues, and we often discuss how our teams are performing. There are layers and layers of communities being created in these spaces, and I think seriously about how participation in fantasy leagues is a form of community identification. In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson writes about how nations are formed using abstract borderlines; that is, how nations are “thought” into being. We choose to play in a league, we choose our fantasy team name, we choose our players: all of this defines our identity as a league (community) member. We establish point values for plays, and this “magic circle” (to borrow Johan Huizinga’s term as it’s been appropriated by game theorists) reinforces community identity. I become a more “real” football fan because I spend my discretionary time playing a game about a game.

In creating and defining the communities we consider our own, we define and describe ourselves – and yet, these communities still exclude participants. I must have time, access to the internet, and, in many cases, an invitation to join a fantasy league. For example, I notice that the CBS report does not feature a diverse portrait of female players: is that the fault of the reporter or a flaw in the game system?

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Verso, 2006.

Comments

Michael Blight's picture

Brick and Mortar?

Hi Dana,

Wonderful post!

Full disclosure: I have spent very little time considering female participation in fantasy leagues. I do, however, mention heteronormativity in my post later this week.

We often talk about fantasy sports as an activity that is omnipresent and ethereal - something that happens somewhere in the cloud. Your mention of going to a physical location is an interesting intersection a la Putnam’s third places.

These brick and mortar locations likely provide inadvertently normative behavior from the males that surround you. You write, “In that space, I am also surrounded by other fans who are simultaneously participating in their own fantasy leagues, and we often discuss how our teams are performing.” In those moments, I am curious to know how much your investment in the leagues (i.e., game knowledge, matchups, gambling odds, etc.) influences the perception of you as a “female player.”

Perhaps the initiation process into these communities is different based solely on you being a woman?

I’d be curious to know what rites and rituals look like compared to the stereotypical portrayal of men playing.

Dana Gavin's picture

Cheers!

Hi Michael,

Thank you!

I appreciate the disclosure, and I look forward to reading your post with an eye towards how our two pieces might intersect.

Yes, the physical location is certainly a part of the experience for me. Not only would it be expensive for me to purchase NFL ticket, my home (tragically!) only has two TVs, so I would miss out on the other games playing concurrently on full screens! I also enjoy having the in-person camaraderie of the people at the pub who aren’t my direct fantasy competitors. In terms of how I am regarded as a “female player”: obviously, I don’t know how each person privately regards me. In terms of how I perceive the way I am perceived, I do not feel like my interactions with the men and women who gather to watch the NFL games treat me in any specifically gendered way. I can say that I am never quizzed by the men (or male-presenting people) in a way that makes me “prove” I’m not a “fangirl.” People know the teams I’m following, and often offer me good wishes if some team (coughSaintscough) is playing well or playing poorly. I have seen women and girls being given “fan purity” tests in all manner of fandoms, and yet, my interactions at the pub are mostly free of that. I have to note, though, that there is a pretty even balance of genders on any given Sunday, so I’m just one of the many.

I have to also note that I’ve been pretty successful in my leagues, so I don’t provoke a lot of inter-league hazing. I encountered some of the “stereotype” when I was playing in the in-person league, until I beat them all to claim the cash prize. I think, though, more and more — *especially* with anonymous online gaming — we’re getting away from having “one right (masculine) way” to draft a team and create line up strategies. There’s less off the “Oh, did you draft that guy because you think he’s cute?” and more “Ahhh, what do you know about that player that I don’t? Is this going to be his year?!”

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